An October 2009 trip
to Australia by pabrams52
Quote: This second visit to Australia helped me appreciate how vast a continent it is and the diversity of its landscapes. The two coasts we were on were quite different but each offered unique activities. This was a trip I won't soon forget. Come along and see why.
Hotel | "A Good Airport Motel"
If given a choice, I would rather not spend the last night of a vacation at an airport motel, but sometimes, it is just logistically wiser to be on or near airport premises the night before a departing flight. This really serves to eliminate unexpected snafus, problems, delays, traffic, etc. and gives a traveler peace-of-mind. I welcomed that "comfort zone" when we concluded our Australia trip and faced a 10:15 a.m. departure from Brisbane. I had tried to select the airport motel carefully when arranging our travel plans and utilized as many resources online as I could. It is usually not an issue of too little information but merely what properties are available near a given airport. Some cities are better than others, as seasoned travelers well know.
It seemed to me that the logical pick distance-wise as well as comfort-wise, was to go with the Kingsford Smith Motel, a small but well-run facility, truly a short distance (as advertised) from Brisbane’s airport. The hotel takes its name after the famous Australian aviator, Sir Charles Edward Kingsford Smith, who in 1928 made the first trans-Pacific flight from the U.S. to Australia. We arrived around dinnertime, the evening prior to our departure and were a little tired from the day. The greeting we received when checking in was welcoming and helpful. We inquired where we could have dinner. The manager recommended a seafood restaurant around the corner. My husband and I looked at each other with a cautioned expression of "do we have a choice?" So, we proceeded to our room, settled in and freshened upfor dinner. I immediately noticed that our room was precisely as described in the motel’s website … that’s always a comforting realization. The rooms are simply decorated, clean and secure.
We decided to go with the Manager’s suggestion and try SeaGrill Cafe. As soon as we turned the corner, there it was – it couldn’t have been more convenient. We ended up having a lovely meal. They serve an array of fresh fish in a variety of preparations. Be aware though that they do not have a license to sell liquor but you can bring your own in if you wish. The service was quite friendly the atmosphere was casual and comfortable.
But the nicest impression we left with was the following day when we checked out. Everything was in order and we took our cab to the airport. As I stepped out of the cab, I noticed that my bracelet was not on my wrist, as usual. My heart sank, as it was a favorite of mine. I made a phone call to the manager at the Kingsford Smith Motel immediately and described the bracelet to him. He asked me to call back in 10 minutes so he could check the room. I did and he informed me that he had found my bracelet on the floor. I offered to pay for the return of my bracelet back to the U.S. But he said, "it can’t be that much". Still, I offered to reimburse him. After advising him of our address, he said he would forward it to me. Most travelers will tell you that this is not the norm. Not only was this like a "breath of fresh air", but the manager handled it in a professional and reassuring manner. I wish more establishments were run like this. It certainly was a very nice way to end our Australia vacation and nice impression with which to return home!
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 28, 2009
Kingsford Smith Motel
610 Kingsford Smith Drive
+61 (7) 3868-4444
Hotel | "Wished We Could Have Stayed Longer"
As with all my travel preparations, I research online fairly thoroughly before making a commitment. Travelers are looking for a particular setting – a welcoming destination where they look forward to resting their head at the end of the day. For some, it is all about high-end, with services of every shape and size. For others, it is location, location, location. And, then, there are the frugal travelers that want to enable their travel by maximizing their bang for the buck. Yes, globetrotters come in all shapes and sizes. I suppose I have a little of each of those qualities in myself. Like most women, I sometimes like to open up the pocket book and splurge, but I think on the whole, I look for the best value for my dollar. I think the most important thing I seek though, when making my hotel reservations, is the overall experience! Each detail may not be absolutely perfect, but "does it come together for a good package?" is the question.
As someone that worked in the hospitality industry for ten years, I have seen a variety of hotels rooms and have learned a bit about the business. You just know when you hit the mark and feel at home. That was the feeling I got when my husband and I walked into the office of Margarets Beach Resort in Margaret River, Western Australia. We had driven down from Perth that afternoon, which means we had been on the road for 3-1/2 hours. That may not sound like a long time, but it was the first time I had ever driven outside of the U.S.A. and the first time I had driven on the other side of the road. I am proud to say that I made it successfully, but I can assure that every muscle in my body was tense with concentration that entire 3-1/2 hours. So, when we arrived, I wanted 2 things: 1) a round of applause and 2) a hot bath! I got the warm welcome and the proverbial pat on the back from Tania who checked us in. She could not have been nicer. You will have to read on for the bath part.
After our friendly and efficient check-in, we confirmed our arrangements for our wine tour which the property had been kind enough to make on our behalf. That’s another mark of a great establishment – do they have good connections to local businesses with whom they can make reservations on behalf of their guests? Margarets Beach Resort knew of and recommended the wine tour I had selected.
See: Memorable Wine Tour/STORIES
We settled in to our room and freshened up for dinner. Now, about that bath … I had an easy time getting in and a difficult time getting out. It was deep and it was hot – need I say any more? I am, without any hesitation, a bath person, so I appreciate a long and deep bathtub. Those are not always easy to find. but Room 226 has one. Their rooms also come equipped with a little kitchenette and a small dining table, which for summer vacationers is most convenient. The nicest amenity though was the stackable washer and dryer in the bathroom. It almost made me want to stay longer. Since I didn’t have any laundry to do, I used it to heat my bath towel. That was luxury enough. Because Margarets Beach Resort is located, well, at the beach, being able to wash things out is a real nice convenience. Their location is situated in one of the most scenic spots in all of Margaret River, as per their homepage:
"Nestled on the coast, Margarets Beach Resort is located at the foot of the Leeuwin Naturaliste Ridge at the beautiful Gnarabup Beach".
Tania had also been kind enough to recommend a couple of spots where we could go to dinner. We decided on The Spaghetti Bowl, which served up one kickin’ bowl of pasta. With a good Margaret River red wine to wash it down, we were done for the day and ready to turn in.
Postscript: I would like to thank Deb, who was very responsive and wonderfully informative in her emails. I tend to pepper chosen destinations with a lot of questions. She was knowledgeable and certainly patient with my queries. Her replies were most appreciated!
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on October 27, 2009
Margarets Beach Resort
1 Resort Place (corner Wallcliffe Road)
Margaret River, Australia
+61 (8) 9757 1227
Hotel | "Willing to Change My Mind"
I won’t beat around the bush. When my husband informed me that his Australian hosts had reserved us a room at Perth’s Burswood Conference Center, I was impressed. I naturally assumed it was at their InterContinental Hotel, as that was what came up when I Googled Burswood Conference Center. But as we were finalizing our trip details, I discovered that the conference center has two hotels – the InterContinental AND a Holiday Inn. My husband clarified that we would be staying at the Holiday Inn. Not knowing anything about this property, my reaction was dictated by mere local, domestic knowledge of this hotel chain and I immediately felt my heart sink. I had already established an email relationship with the concierge desk at the InterContinental – having asked them numerous questions regarding day tours and dinner reservations. Learning that we were not even going to stay at that property posed more than a mild case of embarrassment and a considerable amount of disappointment. My husband, being the optimistic, low-key traveler that he is, said "it’ll all be fine." I, on the other hand, wasn’t so sure.
The day we arrived in Perth was a gorgeous one. The weather was mild and the sun was shining – we could not have asked for better weather. Our host met us at Perth’s airport and drove us the short distance to our hotel. I braced myself and thought, "I guess we’ll just have to make the best of it." From the moment we stepped out of our car, and were greeted by a friendly and attentive bell staff, I thought to myself, "maybe this is going to work out after all." Their greeting was genuinely warm and our check-in was efficient. I noticed that the hotel maintained a full-service restaurant as well as their own concierge desk off of the main lobby. I would later put these services to the test. Our room was spacious and quite comfortable – matter of fact, I fell in love with the deep and roomy bathtub at first sight.
I have to say that my first impressions were good and my view of Holiday Inn was turning around right before my eyes. I do not know whether this brand is operated the same way in other countries as it is in the U.S.A., but I can say our country’s H.I.s could take a few lessons from the Perth Holiday Inn. Here is an example:
My husband and I always travel with our laptop, which happens to be an Apple MacBook Air. Naturally, I prefer to log my reviews online while on the road, since this is when my memory is freshest. I like to get on the computer at night so I can capture that as-it-happened feeling for the reader. Well, we quickly ran into a snag, as the hotel didn’t have a wireless connection but only a broadband cable connection. And, as our sleek MacBook Air only has one USB port and we had no connector for the hotel’s cable, we were sunk. I called the hotel’s concierge desk to request one. They didn’t have one in-house but said they would see what they could do. Within 15 minutes they called back and advised us they would purchase one for us to use on loan during our stay, and if we wished, we could buy it from them at check-out. NOW, THAT’S RESPONSIVENESS!
Their willingness was just as apparent when we asked subsequent questions about local transportation, driving directions and helpful maps or for help with future flight arrangements. They were always congenial when we departed the property in the morning and upon returning later in the day. My husband commented that it felt like we were getting 5-star service (more customary at properties such as The Ritz). It is certainly very rare to find this level of interest, much less, skill, at many domestic Holiday Inns. By now, I had definitely rethought my opinion of this establishment. Another example:
We noticed that the drain did not seem to work well for the shower in our bathroom. Each time my husband used it, the bathroom nearly flooded. We mentioned this to the front desk as we were concerned that either we were doing something wrong, or that there might be a plumbing problem that the hotel would want to be aware of. Nearly immediately, a stack of towels was delivered to our room. The front desk people admitted that there was an issue with the slope in the tile of our bathroom and made a suggestion to us to place a tightly rolled towel INSIDE the shower at the base of the door. Voilà, this recommendation virtually alleviated the flooding.
After our one week stay at the Holiday Inn Perth Burswood, I was quite prepared to not only revisit my initial impression of that property but quite willing to change it. I had been won over completely. On the day that we departed, I left a heartfelt thank you note with the Supervisor of the Concierge Desk, with whom we had become friendly, and our compliments with the front desk as we checked out. It was a little sad leaving our Perth "home-away-from-home" after our week-long stay, but I promised I would publish this to spread the word.
Note: If your budget allows for staying at the InterContinental Hotel, then it is a mere 2 minute walk away from the Holiday Inn at the Burswood Conference Center. Their Concierge Desk, through whom I had originally laid out our tour plans, are also highly professional and a dream to work with. Samuel Ballard, at their desk is skilled, knowledgeable and dependable.
TIP: For easy access from the Burswood Conference Center to the Central Business District (CBD), visitors can take a quick train ride (only 3 stops) or utilize the #37 Bus, which goes through downtown to King’s Park. Each of these modes can be reached within a short 5 minute walk of the Conference Center.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on October 26, 2009
Holiday Inn Burswood
Bolton Avenue & Great Eastern Hwy.
Perth, Australia 6100
+61 (8) 93628888
Restaurant | "A Killer Dish in Brisbane"
You’re in a new city. You are only there for two nights. That means two dinners – which means, you’d better choose carefully. You don’t know that city’s restaurant scene but you want to have a memorable dining experience. What’s a traveler to do?
Well, in my case, my husband and I got lucky, as travelers sometimes do. Yes, it does happen, and when it does, it is best to take the advice from a local that you trust. In this situation, a friend of a friend instructed us not to miss a particular dish at a particular restaurant. Well, if that isn’t getting it straight from the horse’s mouth, I don’t know what is. But if a trusted local friend is not at hand, naturally, utilizing trusted resources such as this dependable website with its traveler insight and recommendations, is a given, due to the vast array of experiences that posting members at igougo.com have amassed.
Our city was Brisbane, Australia. We were staying downtown on Queen Street, quite near the Old Customs House. This very central location is a short walk from a delightful pier promenade along the Brisbane River. Many enticing and well-situated restaurants make their home along this scenic riverfront area, very near the Eagle Street water taxi stop. It was there that we were directed to the well-known restaurant, Il Centro. If anyone is acquainted with the popular series of travel books, DK Eyewitness Travel (Dorling-Kindersley), Il Centro appears in their dining section in the back of their Australia guide. They describe the cuisine as "modern Italian, but the flavours are unique to Queensland…." But more importantly, they specifically encourage ordering the same dish that my husband and I were tipped off to: SANDCRAB LASAGNA! Mmm, just saying it makes my mouth water and brings back delicious memories of a meal the likes of which I’ve never tasted. You’re probably thinking I am exaggerating. Well, I guess you’ll just have to travel to Brisbane to see for yourself, or take my word for it. It is utterly devine.
I’d never heard of such a dish until we ate at Il Centro. It is actually a real lasagna, only layered with sandcrab instead of meat. But the sauce is where the magic lies. This delicate pink sauce is tomato-based but because its foundation is a béchamel sauce, the traditional red color is tempered. I can only tell you that even though I enjoyed my dinner thoroughly, after tasting my husband’s sandcrab lasagna, I cannot remember what I ordered that evening. I only wished I had ordered the sandcrab lasagna for myself. Being the wonderful man he is, he was kind enough to share. I only hope I didn’t make a spectacle of myself as I moaned with delight. Well, it wasn’t quite the scene out of "When Harry Met Sally", but it was close.
The restaurant has an outdoor patio which is situated along the pier boardwalk. The restaurant’s design is a clean and modern, sleek minimalist styling. The service was exceptional and you can depend on their knowledgeable staff to guide you in pairing your order to the proper wines from their list, many of which are Australian. As my husband and I had recently been to Margaret River, we were eager to taste more of the country’s fine wines. The atmosphere is upscale and it appeared to be a popular weeknight dinner locale for many Brisbane businessmen. Needless to say, we couldn’t have been happier with this restaurant recommendation - it was just what we had hoped to stumble on in that lovely metropolitan city down under. Bon appétit!
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on October 25, 2009
Il Centro Restaurant and Bar
Eagle Street Pier 1
Brisbane, Australia 4000
+61 (7) 3221 6090
My husband and I are not wine connoisseurs, but we could not imagine being in Australia without sampling the country’s fine wine offerings. But with only a short amount of vacation time, we had to choose carefully – both location and tour operator. This was important to achieve the quintessential wine experience. I already knew about the site www.westernaustralia.com, which provides a wealth of great (what I call) starting point data. But I needed to get feedback on personal experience for wine tours, so I turned to www.TripAdvisor.com in order to pinpoint which tour company would fit our needs. I learned from doing a little research that the Margaret River Region is famous for wine in Australia and is situated a comfortable driving distance from Perth, our base. After checking out the map, it seemed like a manageable 24-hour excursion and a perfect way to see some more of Western Australia. When I put in the search words: best-wine-tour-in–Margaret-River, I hit the jackpot. The name, "Margaret River Discovery Co. Tours" kept popping up in many of the reviews and when I clicked on those reviews, I learned that this was in fact the #1 rated company. Taaa-DAA! The feedback was obviously critical to our decision and I followed up with emails to that tour provider. I heard back from owner Sean Blocksidge in a very timely fashion, with answers to my questions. My husband and I decided to go with the "Best of the Best" wine tour, which I ultimately booked through the hotel where we’d be staying in Margaret River. Since they were well acquainted with Sean, they endorsed our decision as well as arranged for him to pick us up at their establishment.
Sean is an amiable and highly-qualified tour operator, with a background in both the hospitality and wine business – having operated an establishment in each. He succeeds in delivering a personalized tour experience that conveys that very essence of wine making…understanding the process. This is not a marathon of how many wineries we could hit in one day, but more so an intimate behind-the-scenes look at what makes a great wine. We were taken to two wineries (Edwards and Cape Mentelle). At the Edwards Winery, we had the standard tasting and learned of the background of this lovely vineyard. The visit to the Cape Mentelle Winery was far more extended. We were taken into their vineyards and spoke with their senior winemaker, Rob Mann, about the cultivation of their grapes and all the aspects that affect a good vintage. We were shown the production and aging process, then finally, bottling and marketing. The final phase of our tour was in their degustation room, an area of quiet reverence, where the wine is finally understood and appreciated. Our group was offered 6 wines with appropriate food pairings, and the reasons for these pairings were discussed and explained. I cannot say I came away from the experience as a more expert wine taster, but I can say that my level of appreciation was greatly enhanced. And in the future, when I encounter a new wine, I will approach it with new eyes, new nose and a more probing first sip.
Sean spent the remainder of our tour sharing with us the beautiful scenery of the Margaret River coastline. He brought along 3 flavors of locally produced honey for us to taste as we stood atop one of the breathtaking cliffs and soaked up the amazing afternoon vista. We all agreed, it had been a day and an experience we would never forget. I thought to myself, "if this is a dream, I don’t want to wake up."
Attraction | "Flora I'd Never Seen"
I am not a botanist, but I do love nature and color. And, I also love to learn about beauty on other continents as well as attempting to successfully photograph it. So it was for that reason that I chose to go on a wildflower tour while in Perth, Australia. The concierge at my hotel recommended utilizing Australian Pinnacle Tours, a company with a long-standing reputation for dependability. I chose their one day tour, which would afford me as much opportunity to view as possible. I was up against no time deadlines and it was a pleasure to go on the excursion at my leisure.
My hotel’s concierge arranged to have their shuttle pick me up at my hotel and take me to the company’s starting point in downtown Perth. This service stopped for a few other passengers along the way and did not take an undue amount of time. After paying for the excursion, we were on our way in a large and comfortable tour bus by 8:00 a.m. Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t "do 8:00 a.m." and would be proud of the way I bounded easily out of bed to meet this deadline.
We each received a guide to wildflowers which named, described and displayed a photograph of the plants and flowers which we would be viewing. Because the flowering is seasonal, it is difficult to say where each tour will go for this itinerary, as it depends on the time of year and the most favorable viewing areas. But our guide made sure that we saw what was coming up for the season as we were in their early spring. Australia, being in the southern hemisphere, has seasons opposite to ours so their early October (when I visited) is like our early April. The buds were in bloom and though we had to look closely at times, we could see the beginnings of life all around – both on the ground
and in the trees.
My objective, as I said, was to try and successfully photograph the flora of the region. This is a challenge for any photographer, professional or amateur. There are so many variables to consider including light, distance and angle of sun to name a few, but I tried my best. Though my focus was not always spot on, I found it a welcome challenge to see how much I could successfully capture. Much of it required up-close shots, using a nature setting on my camera.
Morning tea and cakes were served about 10:30 a.m. and we stopped at a lovely park to enjoy a packed lunch around 12:30 p.m. We concluded our tour about 4:30 p.m. and I eagerly returned to my hotel room, anxious to see how my photographs had turned out. I’m happy to say that I caught a nice representation of the day and of the flora of western Australia.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on October 21, 2009
Wildflowers of Western Australia
Attraction | "Not Leaving Australia until I Hold a Koala!"
When one only has about 24 hours in a new city, it begs the question "where do you go?" and "what do you see?". After having read the excellent reviews at this websitein preparation for my quick visit to Brisbane, Australia, I decided that I just HAD to see the koalas and have my picture taken with one.
Australia is a huge country and there is much to see, but if time is a factor, then Brisbane’s Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary is the place to go. I booked my visit through American Express Travel Services and my voucher was conveniently waiting for me at my Brisbane hotel when I checked in. My husband and I were picked up and dropped off at our hotel, which made the process so much easier, though there is a city bus that regularly goes to and from the sanctuary. Lone Pine is located a short distance from the Central Business District (CBD) and is a manageable outing, not taking up a huge amount of the day.
This natural habitat is truly a sanctuary for these beautiful animals. Some are injured and being nursed back to health and some are just protected from the modern elements endangering them. The sanctuary is home to not only koalas, but also beautiful birds (read below about the lorikeets feeding show), dingos, kangaroos, wallabies (small kangaroos) bats, a few crocodiles, snakes, Tasmanian devils, scrub turkeys, sheep dogs and gorgeous cockatoos to name a few.
It is important to know the park’s schedule of events as they present demonstrations throughout the day and some you simply don’t want to miss. Our driver recommended the "Birds of Prey" show, that we found to be enthralling. The trainers are experts at handling these large hunting birds with their dangerous talons and strong beaks. They demonstrate some of their many skills and flying capability. One only has to see the enormous wingspan of the majestic eagle to appreciate its strength and its place in the animal hierarchy.
But it was off to the koala area for me. The sanctuary provides an wonderful opportunity to get up close with this adorable creature. I felt a little bad knowing that daytime hours are not their preference – these marsupials are definitely nocturnal and many were "relaxing" and dozing during our afternoon stroll. The trainers though will ably assist in placing one in your arms for the coveted cuddle picture to take home as a memento of your visit. My koala, named Shassi, was cooperative and definitely photogenic. When you pick up your photo at their gift shop, take note of the famous faces that have visited this sanctuary. Hey, if it’s good enough for Mikhail Gorbachev, it’s good enough for me. I learned that koalas have two "thumbs" which helps them grip better when they hang in the eucalyptus trees. Their preference for eucalyptus leaves comes from an evolutionary development as those leaves serve little use due to their toxins and low protein level. Over time though, koalas have uniquely adapted to this one food source since they maintain a low energy output.
As my husband and I were returning to the entrance we walked through the lorikeet area. Three o’clock is their afternoon feeding time and it’s an event not to be missed. These beautiful little birds are calmly perched up in the trees minding their own business with only a few of them fluttering around. But, when the food is brought out by their keepers and offered to visitors to hold out for them, the fun begins. The lorikeets fly and dash furiously from one dish of food to another creating a colorful frenzy. The dashes of red, blue and yellow on their otherwise green feathers are striking and when seen in flight, to provide a rainbow display. The park’s visitors are in for a real treat when ensconced in this mesmerizing activity. I think the best part of this fun show is watching the faces of young children holding the feeding trays as the birds swoop and dive for the food. And yes, it made me feel like a kid again, too!
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 21, 2009
Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary
Brisbane, Australia 4069
+61 (0)7 3378 1366
Attraction | "Dolphins, Penguins & Sea Lions"
Though this was my second visit to Australia, I was willing to admit that I knew little about this impressive continent. Because my husband was occupied for the day in a business meeting, I was free to explore on my own and eager to get to know western Australia. I hadn’t known that Western Australia is vast, making it Australia’s largest state, with a land area of more than 2.5 million square kilometers. The weather of the west coast of Australia is more temperate than that of the east coast, with little to no humidity, making it far more comfortable year round.
I loved the way Western Australia makes important information available to visitors at their well-constructed and extremely helpful website (linked above), and I found this site to be a valuable planning resource for my trip. It was through this site that I learned of the many touring options I had. I was directed to Rockingham Wild Encounters’ website to choose my excursion, and I went with Dolphins, Penguins & Sea Lions. The nice thing about this tour is that you see the dolphins in their natural habitat; swimming in the waters they love best, not cooped up in a large tank to perform on command. This was just as important to the tour operators as it was to me. Their tour guides are quite knowledgeable and will instruct and educate you along the way.
The second part of this delightful day was being ferried out to Penguin Island. There, visitors are greeted by what seems like thousands of gulls that inhabit this island sanctuary. Watch out, as they are very protective of their young chicks.
The island is also home to approximately 600 pairs of miniature penguins, the smallest in the world. The tour I took included watching them at feeding time and learning about them from their caregivers at the . We were given ample time to stroll along the island’s boardwalk and gain perspectives from different angles and perches on the island. You’ll also spot many pelicans that call this island home.
After a mid-day lunch, we were taken by ferry to Seal Island to view the Australian Sea Lions. These hefty, yet beautiful mammals are part of the Pinniped family and though tourists are not allowed on the island itself, the boat traverses the shore from many varying angles so you can get just the right perspective with your camera. With my zoom feature I was able to successfully photograph the resting males while they basked on the beach.
It was a beautiful and adventurous day that I’ll never forget. It isn’t often in our harried daily life that we get this close to nature and this tour gives one a chance to slow down and enjoy the beauty around us, if we just take the time to really appreciate it.
Rockingham Wild Encounters
P.O. Box 5321
Rockingham Beach, Australia
Los Angeles, California