Being together for 10 days, 24 hrs a day (on the air, in the bus, under the water, on the road, on the plane, in the hotel room, yeah yeah, you got the idea) was never been so FUN (and some times so annoying too). Being part of the family is a package deal and one have to deal with everything, the awesome stuff, and ‘not so’ awesome stuff. During this trip, at times we did step on each other’s nerves, dealt with idiosyncrasies of two generations (My Parents & Me / My Kids & me) not all of which you do not see on cool snaps that I have posted on FB. Yes, for most of the same time, this trip allowed us to bond quite well. I am sure after years to come, all of us only remember best part of this trip; cherish so many new memories made in Awesome Australia. Here is the finale to my trip to Australia, a blog update, which talks about my observations, tips, lessons learned, few snaps, few videos, and more. This is written over 30000 feet from the ground, enroute from Melbourne to Hyderabad.
Preparing to come to Australia was a mega project plan, given that I wanted to get my Dad & Mom on this trip. My dad recovered from serious illness last year, and I have always wanted to take him on a nice long trip. He wasn’t confident of traveling anywhere, and wasn’t in a mood to go out at all. After quite a bit of persuasion, he has agreed for it. We have contemplated many options, and finally decided as Australia as the place to go. Australia is the country that you do not get bump into easily, because of it’s geographical positioning of “down under”. We were also smitten by Australia thanks to its featured locations in some of the recent Indian movies. However getting date slot, where all of six of us would not have a conflict, isn’t an easy task to deal with. It meant aligning six different types of calendars (School, Spiritual, Psychological, Health, Weather, and Work).
Finally, we have decided on a 10-day trip to Australia beginning April 10th to April 20th, though it wasn’t a perfect alignment, but this window offered least number of conflicts. We have limited the trip to 10 days, as more than 10 days (despite many advised us to combine with trip to New Zealand) would mean more conflicts and impractical, and my parents were also nervous about a long trip. We have divided the trip into 3 parts covering Sydney (3 Days), Cairns (3 Days), and Melbourne (4 Days) and return to Hyderabad and booked in a circular ticketing option (pricy, but avoids redundant flights). Sydney was chosen because it is touted as a major city, Cairns because of Great Barrier Reef (item from my own bucket list), and Melbourne because it was another popular destination (and also because Divya studied here and raved about this place).
We have removed other featured cities because we have limited interest on beaches, and already experienced featured attractions from those cities, during our long stint in US. I had prepared the custom travel itinerary (with sequence of cities to explore, and what to do in each city on any given day) with help of friends / colleagues (Rashi, Neeta, Shivani), in-house travel assistant (Hoi), trip advisor, and ready-made travel itineraries flouted by leading travel agents online and offline
Here are the travel tips, observations, comments, lessons learned, etc based on the experience from the trip. They are not listed in any particular order
- Always get multiple quotes, before committing to a travel agent. Once you commit to a travel agent, it is not easy / ethical to ‘un commit’. I might have ended up pay premium pricing, as I did not shop around much. But I got my travel agent to upgrade my hotels, arrange for private taxi service for pick-up/drop-off, etc., once I realized that I might be paying premium pricing, which they have happily accommodate it
- Self-exploration based trips are less expensive and more fun based on your age of yourself and your kids, but takes lot more planning and extensive research on the net. I have chosen guided tour option via coach services, as I wanted my parents to experience perfect trip and did bot want them to experience uncertainty during any part of the trip. It was worth it and provided different type of experience and was relaxing (as we could doze off on the bus and catch up with our sleep, and catch up with photo cleansing). Our earlier trip to Europe in 2010 was self drive based, and experience different type of fun, going on buses, staying at backpacker hotels, taking trams and trains, and doing long walks in the towns, and we still cherish it
- If you are going on aANZ trip, I would suggest getting your own flight booked, book hotels based on Trip Advisor ratings based on your budget, get a car / van rented for best experience. If you are not comfortable driving, directly book coach service from AAT Kings or similar other providers. Again if time is of luxury and price is no bar, I would recommend you to go with Fiesta Vacation (based in Bangalore) and my experience with them was quite good.
- Allow enough time for visa processing, as the processing times can vary anywhere from 5 days to 15 days, based on the season and other external factors. It would be nerve wracking, if you got your tickets issued & hotel reservations confirmed and your visa is not ready. For US citizens, travel permit is issued instantly online for $20
- Limit to fewer cities (and fewer attractions) in the travel plan, as it allows you to explore the city destinations, culture, and food at much leisure pace. We really love to experience cities that we travel. Me and kids walked around the towns we have visited during the trip quite extensively
- Get a local SIM card for destination country / city even before you get on a flight. I have got my Matrix representative to issue 4 SIM cards, one to each adult member in the family. I paid about INR 400 for each SIM card, which allowed unlimited incoming free calls in Australia, and unlimited free calls between the family members in Australia. Outgoing calls to India was about INR 20 per minute. This made easy for us to be in touch, and allowed kids, parents and Radhika to explore on their own on the streets and malls, and while still be in touch via phone.
- Get at minimum, 1 GB data pack for your SIM. Google is your best friend when you are travelling to a new city. We were able to car / walking directions to restaurants that serve our favorite veggie cuisines with a click of button. It also allowed us to share (or spam) our experiences to our family members (who were keen on knowing how my parents are doing) instantly via Whatsapp
- I have booked / paid for some of the popular attractions / adventures well in advance to ensure confirmation of right show / time slot. I had paid for Bridge Climb, Opera House Concert, Sky Diving days in advance or even before I flew to Australia
- I have deleted outlook app on my cell phone, which was encouraged by colleagues too. I was able to access / catch up my business inbox only when I was at the hotel and logged on to outlook on my Mac air, though I replied to only less 5% of the emails (compared to 70% emails during my previous trips). Hence relaxed looked on my face in the photos you saw on FB. A small (yet nasty email) can spoil your day
- Hanging out for 10 days, and 10 hours a day means, we will step on each other’s nerves, and annoy each other to the core via our idiosyncrasies. There is no tip to avoid this. Other side of the coin is that there is renewed bonding and several positive memories that will be cherished for rest of the life
- My parents (who are foodies and particular about authentic desi cuisine) were worried, if we were going to get Indian cuisine, though I told them, “You will get Indian food everywhere except on Mars”. They live by B.Y.O.M mantra. Bring You Own Masala. I have supported their desire to get their own masala powers and favorite desi snacks. I did identify best Indian restaurant at all destination cities, even before I took off from Hyderabad. Contrary to what I expected, Indian food tasted awesome at all the places we have dined
- We found most or all places cities / towns we have visited in Australia to be pristine and clean. Once you get out of the town, we spotted lots of greenery, lush fields, pristine towns, nature kept reasonably intact, clean beaches, blue water fronts, lots of beautiful scenery, feel of driving through small towns yet accessible to all the modern amneties
- 80% of the tourists seem to be from China and Japan. I have noticed application forms, brochures, and even tour guides to be Chinese / Japanese friendly. Less than 5% are from India, and rest from other countries. I have noticed most shops to be having workforce who speak Chinese & Japanese. As usual many food chains owned by Indians, and cabbie to be from Punjab, and Haryana.
- Few of the places where we enjoyed food is listed below:
- o Indian Food in Sydney
- Zafraan @ Harbourside (Darling Harbour) – Upscale & authentic cuisine
- Thai Food in Sydney
- Siam Thai & Thai Room
- Indian Food in Cairns
- Tandoor – Upscale and authentic cuisine
- Royal India Cuisine – Fast, not so cheap, tasty
- Indian Food in Melbourne
- Curry Vault near Market / Collins – Upscale cuisine
- Om Vegetarian – Fast, Cheap, Veggie only, Healthy and Tast
- Puran Wale Delhi – Decent masala dosa in the downtown
- Indian Food in Cowes (near Penguin Island
- Tandoor – Average cuisine, but not bad, if you are desperate for desi food
- o Indian Food in Sydney
Highlights quoted by my family (not in any order)
- Spending 10 days with entire Family together
- Revanth and me doing Sky Diving in Cairns
- Radhika and parents attending violin concert in the magnificent Opera House, while we watched movie on World’s Biggest IMAX screen
- All four us attempting Scuba Diving in the outer reef
- Kids snorkeling in the outer reef
- Driving on the Great Ocean Road
- Awesome moments at one of the beaches near 2 Apostles
- Bridge Climb in Sydney along with my boys
- Drive to Penguin islands and sights on the way
- Stroll around the town in Sydney, Cairns, and Melbourne
Below videos gives glimpse of memories that we are going to cherish for years to come, and collection of my favorite snaps. Come back to the website again for updated version of this video
On Scuba Diving:
We were pleasantly surprised to see the diver with a huge video camera filming the footage of our experience, similar to the lines of footage you see on Discovery Channel. Our experience was pretty cool, but could have been more satisfying. It ended rather quickly as we spent more time in warm-up / practice session to ensure that we got all the tips to survive any crises under the water. As I said, it was little more nerve wracking than other adventures that I have attempted (now I have so much respect for folks that I see on Discovery Documentaries). Contrary to the hype and footage you see in the media, sea life that we got to see wasn’t as colorful as we had imagined. It might be also due to the fact that we did not dive deep enough. Here is the footage that was cleverly collaged by the Reef Team, for your viewing pleasure. I was quite impressed with their collage, so shelved extra dough to pay for the video footage instead of going for snaps, where we all looked weird 🙂
On Sky Diving:
We were in Cairns, for primarily explore the Great Barrier Reef. However, our day 1 agenda got cancelled due to post cyclone conditions. So, I got Revanth introduced to Sky Diving, which I had promised him during his 18th birthday. Earlier, we both had planned to do it in US during one of my business trips. However, once I learned that Sky Diving Cairns is just 10 minutes away from where we stay, we got ourselves registered on stand-by booking and got confirmed for 3PM jump. Team here said that it is highest jump (14000 FT) available in Australia. Our flight took us to 14000 feet in about 20 minutes with awesome views of ocean, great barrier, scenic view of hills, mountains, and tropical rain forest surrounding Cairns en route to jump spot. There was no ‘camera jumper’ this time. Our tandem jumper shot our footage via Go Pro camera attached to his wrist. This is my second dive, and was lot more fun. View coming down to the ground was mind blowing and I felt this location should be in everyone’s bucket list. Revanth was poised and calmer (compared to my anxiety level during my first dive) given it was his first dive. He was speechless once he landed on the ground as you can see from the video. Here are few pics from our Sky Diving Experience
On Great Ocean Road:
We spent a day being driven several hundred KMs on The Great Ocean Road (which is featured in popular movies in most languages out there), stopping at the mandatory scenic spots, and enjoying the beauty of the nature on the way, still seemingly preserved pristine by Awesome Australia. I did get a dejavu feeling at one of the locations (12 Apostles) as I remember it being featured in so many of Indian movie songs. I always imagined visiting this location, and didn’t realize until we stepped 50 stairs down the hill and found the spot you see in below photos. As you can see from my histrionics in the below photos, I was more than thrilled to find the spot. I am hoping to come back here one day, doing self-drive in a convertible (and with out being rushed by a tour guide)
We also visited Phillip Island, which is an Australian island southeast of Melbourne, and appears as if it’s at southeastern tip of Australia. Penguin Parade is the primary attraction, which allows few thousand tourists (without cameras turned on) watch Little Penguins (smallest species of penguin found only in coastal region of ANZ) come ashore in groups and parade to their homes. Along the coast, and the drive to the Island, we also got to see Short Tailed ShearwatersPacific Gulls, Wallabies, Kangaroos freely roaming around. Entire drive here is just awesome and picturesque. Final lap of the drive reminded me of drive to cape of Good Hope, in South Africa. Listed below are few pics from the same
Bridge Climb Bridge climb gave us a 360-degree panoramic view of Sydney during our journey to the summit of the bridge. It was my first adventure along with Revanth and Aniketh. It took about 3 hrs to get to the summit, and return to the base. We loved view from the summit. We wished, the journey was little faster. There is actually a express version, which we missed to opt for it. They take up to 14 folks per the group. There is lot of trivial and commentary shared during the journey and they took about 5 pictures at 5 different spots. Fare to this adventure is quite pricy. I felt ROI on Sky Diving and Scuba Diving experience is much higher when compared to Bridge Climbing. However, this is one item wanted to get out of our list. So got it done. Here are few pics and a 8 second video, shot by the Bridge Climb team.