Friday, 24 April 2015

Australia - travel tips and advice from a local.


There are seven major Designated International Airports in Australia: Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Cairns, Perth, Adelaide and Darwin. You are going to arrive at one of these, probably Sydney or Melbourne.




Immigration and Quarantine


  • You will be required to go through immigration and quarantine at the airport of your first arrival, even if you have a domestic connecting flight. The chances are there will be a long queue, you will be jet-lagged and everyone else will also be tired. Australia is a long way from everywhere so you are likely to have been in the air for many hours and crossed multiple time zones. 
  • Because Sydney airport has a noise curfew between 11 p.m and 6 am, many international flights arrive around the same time in the morning. Bear in mind that a Qantas A380 carries 484 passengers while a 747 can carry 364.  If you touch down with a couple of other large planes the sheer volume of arriving passengers puts a strain on resources. Allow yourself plenty of time for transfers and be patient; the lines usually move a lot more quickly than you think they are going to.
  • Don't mess with the immigration and quarantine guys. They are usually polite but break the rules and you may find yourself on the wrong end of a very unpleasant encounter. Australia is an island (no surprises there I hope - if you were planning on driving here you better think again!). Bio-security is taken very seriously and as a general rule you can't bring in food or plant materials. 
  • If you are not sure whether something is allowed - declare it. The quarantine officers will check what you have and if it is not on the banned list the item will be returned to you - trust me on this one. I once begged them to confiscate a particularly hideous wooden souvenir David bought in Sth America, but they wouldn't do it.

If you look out of the plane window and see this you're about to land in Sydney.


Getting to and from the airport


Australia is one of the most highly urbanised countries in the world. Sydney has almost 5,000,000 people and Melbourne 4,000,000. In cities this large you need a plan.


And you thought Oz was all outback and kangaroos. (Circular Quay, Sydney)

Sydney Airport is about 12 km (7 miles) from the city centre while Melbourne Airport is 23.5km (14.6 miles). Sadly, taxis are universally expensive. In Sydney, a taxi to the city centre costs about $50 AUD (US$39) while the fare from Melbourne Airport is about $64 AUD (US$50). Fortunately, there are other options:

Sydney : -

  • Train - Both the domestic and international terminals are serviced by Airport Link trains. These are generally fast, and efficient. They are part of the wider Sydney Trains transport network and connect with all stations in the Sydney metropolitan area. There is an airport station surcharge in addition to the ordinary fare which makes them an expensive option if you are travelling with a large group. An adult one-way ticket from the International Terminal to the city costs $17 AUD.  Click here for information on prices. 
  • If you intend to arrive on a weekend check the Service Updates section of the Sydney Trains web site for trackwork. If trackwork is being done on the line you want buses will replace the trains between some stations. This is a real hassle if you have a lot of luggage.
  • Bus - Sydney Buses operate a public bus route No. 400 from Bondi Junction to Burwood which stops at both the International and the Domestic Terminals. This route does not go through the city centre.  For a map of the route click - here. For a timetable click - here.
  • A number of private shuttle bus companies offer transfers to and from Sydney airport. Click here for a list or Google 'Sydney Airport Shuttle Services'. 
  • Transferring to the Domestic Airport - Sydney's International and domestic airports are next to each other, but it is impractical to walk between them. The TBus shuttle service operates half hourly, more frequently in the morning peak period, takes about ten minutes and costs $5.50 AUD one way.  The Airport Link train service takes two minutes and costs $5.80 AUD. A taxi between the terminals will cost about $22.00 AUD. Both Qantas and Virgin have special arrangements for transferring passengers.

Melbourne : -

  • Bus - SkyBus runs express services between Melbourne Airport and the city centre. The service runs every ten minutes, takes approximately twenty minutes and costs $18 AUD one way. SkyBus also operates a hotel transfer service from its city terminal at Southern Cross Railway station to many of the city's hotels. For information on the SkyBus Hotel Transfer Service click - here
  • For information on public bus routes to Melbourne Airport click - here
  • There is no train station at Melbourne Airport. However, bus route 901 connects the airport with Broadmeadows Railway Station.
  • For information on Shuttle Bus services to and from the airport click - here
  • Or, for those for whom money is no object Air Melbourne offer a helicopter shuttle service.
  • Avalon Airport is situated further from the city centre than Melbourne Airport. It does not handle international flights, however, many budget domestic carriers fly to Avalon rather than Melbourne Airport.

Brisbane : -

  • TrainBrisbane's Airtrain runs every 15-30 minutes between the airport and the city centre. It costs $17 AUD, or $15.30 AUD if you buy your ticket online. The train takes about twenty minutes.
  • Private bus transfers are available through Con-x-ion Airport Transfers.
  • Transferring to the Domestic Airport - A complimentary Airport Transfer Bus  operates between the International and Domestic terminals. Airtrain has transfers for $5 AUD.

Perth : -

  • Transferring to the Domestic Airport - A free shuttle service operates between the terminals.

Adelaide : -

  • JetBus public bus and private shuttle buses operate between the airport and the city. Click here and here for information.
Qualia, Hamilton Island, Qld. It's not all about the outback.

When to visit 


Because of its vast size and, at times, harsh climate there is no single best time of year to visit. The best months in Nth Queensland for example are the worst in Tasmania. Accuweather is a helpful tool to find out what the weather will be like when you visit. Don't just rely on average temperatures. They can be misleading. When we are planning a trip, we also go back and look at last year's weather on the equivalent days.

The best time to visit some of Australia's major attractions are: - 
  • Sydney - Jan/Feb can be hot and humid while July/August is cold. Avoid those months if you can but Sydney has a mild Mediterranean climate and is fairly pleasant during most of the year. My personal favourite is spring and early summer, Oct/Nov/Dec. For average daily temperatures and rainfall click - here
  • Melbourne - Melbourne gets very hot in mid-summer (Jan/Feb) and much too cold for me in winter (June/July/Aug). Stick to Autumn and Spring if you can but be prepared for significant temperature variations during the course of a single day. For average daily temperatures and rainfall click - here
  • Brisbane - Unless you really love heat and humidity, avoid summer. Rainfall is also highest in summer. Spring, Autumn and winter are all pleasant.  For average daily temperatures and rainfall click - here
  • Perth - Perth gets very hot in summer. Avoid summer if you can, but the rest of the year is quite mild. Sally-Ann, a fellow travel blogger from Toddlers on Tour was born in Perth and she tells me to avoid winter unless you like wet and windy. Of course, winter is the perfect time to go to the north-west of Western Australia. For average daily temperatures and rainfall click - here
  • Adelaide - Winter in Adelaide can be cold and wet. Avoid June and July if you can. I have it on good authority from an Adelaide based acquaintance that March and April are the best months to visit.
  • Alice-Springs/Uluru - Don't even think about visiting in summer. Australia's red centre is a place you want to visit in the cooler months only. For average daily temperatures and rainfall click - here
  • Cairns/The Great Barrier Reef - Another destination best visited in winter. Summers are hot and tropical. The wet season runs from December to the end of February - unless you are a fan of torrential rain then forget summer. For average daily temperature and rainfall click - here
  • Tasmania - Tasmania is a long way south, consequently it gets cold and miserable in winter. We once got snow at Lake St Clair in November (spring).  February is my favourite month and probably the most predictable weather-wise. For average daily temperatures and rainfall click - here

Lake St Clair, Cradle Mountain  - Tasmania

Getting around


Australia is a vast country. If you want to see it all you are going to have to stay for a long time or do a lot of flying. I have listed a few random distances to give you an idea of Austalia's size.

  • Melbourne to Sydney is 877 km. Non-stop that is almost 9 hours driving,
  • Melbourne to Cairns is almost 3,000 km, 32 hours driving,
  • Sydney to Adelaide is 1,370 km, 14 hours driving, 
  • Adelaide to Darwin is 3,000 km, 34 hours driving, and
  • Sydney to Perth is a whopping 4,000 km, 40 hours driving.


The Great Ocean Road - Vic

The south coast of Victoria

Driving 


Unless you are on a tour, pretty much the only way to see Australia outside the capital cities is to hire a car and drive. 

  • Australians drive on the left-hand side of the road. The best way to remember this is to position your car with the driver in the centre of the road. Be careful turning out of one-way streets. It is easy to go on auto-pilot and find yourself on the wrong side. 
Australians find these signs amusing .

  • Stick to the speed limit. Australia uses kilometres not miles. All speed limits are posted in km per hour. The Highway Patrol is everywhere, as are fixed and mobile speed cameras. If you routinely drive above the limit you will get caught eventually and the fines are steep.
  • Beware of School Zones. Speed limits are lower at certain times of day in these zones and the fines are much higher. Many school zones in Sydney have fixed speed cameras. 
  • Be aware of fatigue caused by driving long distances. Even if you fly into an area first and then pick up a car chances are you will end up doing a lot of driving. Try to alternate driving with another person. Two hours on and two hours off works well for us. If you are the only driver, don't be too ambitious about how far you can safely drive in a day.
  • Don't drink and drive. Legal blood alcohol limits are .05 in all states. It doesn't take much to tip you over this. Driving above the prescribed alcohol limit is viewed very seriously, particularly if you register above .08. The Highway Patrol conduct frequent random roadside breathtesting.
  • Slow down and be careful driving in the countryside at night and around dawn and dusk. Kangaroos are beautiful animals, but they are not street smart. They have a disarming habit of bounding in front of cars without warning. You don't want to hurt one and they are big enough to do serious damage to a vehicle. The same goes for emus. You don't see them as often, but they are really stupid when it comes to crossing the road.

Mother kangaroo and her joey.
  • Australia is a perfect place for road trips, but there are large parts of the country, where you should not attempt a road trip without adequate preparation. Don't risk getting stranded in the outback. Eastern and south-eastern Australia are populated densely enough that you will never be too far from the nearest town however there are vast tracts of country in north-west Queensland, The Northern Territory and the far north-west of Western Australia which are desolate, empty, hot and dry. Get advice, plan ahead and don't get caught without enough water. 
  • The state-based motorist associations are great places to get advice on planning a road trip. Click here for the website of the association for each state. Bring you home association membership card with you. There used to be limited reciprocal rights, for example, for AAA (US) members. This may have changed so you might want to check.


Do I look street-smart to you?

Crossing the road


  • When you cross the road, don't forget Australians drive on the left. That means the cars closest to you will be coming from the right. If you live in a country which drives on the right, it is very easy to look the wrong way and step out in front of a car you didn't realise was there. Don't try to remember which way to look, make it a habit to look both ways every time.

Money 


  • The Australian dollar is one of the most traded currencies in the world. I have no idea why, but it does mean that the Aussie tends to bounce around a lot. If you don't like the exchange rate, hang around for a while - it might get better, or a lot worse. Be grateful you are only here for a short time and have pity on us. We plan a trip when the Aussie is strong only to see our purchasing power slashed by the time we actually arrive in a foreign country. - okay, whinge over.
  • There is a flat rate of 10% GST charged on almost all goods and services. It is always built in to the price so you won't notice it.
  • Large hotels and, increasingly other businesses, frequently charge a surcharge if you use a credit charge. The use of American Express cards, in particular, attracts surcharges. 
  • If a business gives you the opportunity to pay for a purchase in your local currency - don't. Otherwise, you risk being a victim of dynamic currency conversion where you pay an extra, undisclosed,  fee for the privilege of using your own currency. Sadly this is not a problem specific to Australia. For an explanation of how dynamic currency conversion works click -  here

Mobile Phones


Telstra has the most extensive mobile network in the country. If you don't want to pay international roaming charges and you do want decent mobile coverage outside the major cities buy a Telstra sim card when you arrive. For a map of Telstra's mobile coverage click - here





Snakes, spiders, sharks and crocodiles.


Don't believe the hype. Yes, Australia has poisonous snakes, spiders and jellyfish, and man-eating sharks and crocodiles but you are extremely unlikely to come across them. Most Australians don't see a dangerous animal from one year to the next. Respect warning signs, don't be an idiot and you will be as safe in this country as anywhere in the world.




The Australian Sun


I am reasonably sure that we have the same sun as you get in the northern hemisphere, but it is stronger down here - a lot stronger. Don't underestimate your chances of getting sunburnt. Lay on the beach for a couple of hours or walk around in the midday sun and you probably won't know you are burnt for a few hours but the next day you will regret it - trust me on this one. Wear a hat, apply sunscreen (frequently) and seek out shade when you can.

Lastly


Welcome to Australia! I hope you have a fantastic time.


Have you visited Australia, or do you live here? Do you have any advice for fellow travellers?

For all my blog posts on Australia click - here


41 comments:

  1. Woah I need to save this in my to-read pile! I've never been to Australia and am planning a big trip there for next year, I need to read this post very carefully :)
    Thanks for sharing!
    Valeria @ romenewyorklondonworld.com, found you through #TheWeeklyPostcard

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  2. We travel and live down under! Great tips on travelling Australia :)
    And yes there is so much to see, I don't reckon you could see it all in one lifetime, actually you would need at least three lifetimes to see our vast country.
    We sure do live in such an amazing country - so much adventures waiting around every bend in the road!

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    1. Hi Lisa. I couldn't agree with you more.

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  3. Excellent read! Very informative post for people like me who never visited Australia. I'll make sure to bookmark it for future reference. Thank you for linking up to The Weekly Postcard.

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    1. Hi Anda. You really have to come here one day. David and I seem to have been just about everywhere you go. I loved your post on The Tigre - it brought back some great memories. If you ever do come to Australia, please let me know. I'll invite you over for lunch. I'm sure we would have a lot to talk about.

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  4. Hi Lyn
    I loved your post on Australia but wondered why you left out the city that the OECD said was the most livable city in the world (http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/canberra-named-the-best-place-in-the-worldagain-20141006-10r5sp.html) and which was recently described by the NY Times as having ‘big-sky beauty, breezy civic pride and a decidedly hipster underbelly’ (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/08/travel/36-hours-in-canberra-australia.html?_r=0). It is full of great cycle ways, always easy to find a kangaroo and magnificent birds, the place to see national monuments, great eateries and as we now know a ‘hipster underbelly’ in New Acton and Lonsdale Street Braddon. Canberra, Australia’s national capital, is designed to integrate the bush with the city. It is a great place to live and to visit – all the advantages of living in a small city and the ease of access to the bush – when my husband and I go for a walk with our dogs each weekend we see kangaroos, parrots, swans, the occasional pelican and hawks. While I think many Australian’s views of Canberra are defined by the mandatory year 6 school visit to Parliament and the War Memorial, there is so much more to see and do here (just see the article in the NY Times) - though I have to say that any visitor should go to Parliament House and spend a few hours at the War Memorial. In particular when I have taken visitors, both Australians and those visiting from overseas, to the War Memorial they are in awe of the tribute the Memorial pays to our troops. The intent in placing the War Memorial where it is – on the opposite side of our beautiful lake to Australia’s Parliament House – was to remind our politicians of the cost of sending your men and women to war. It certainly does that.
    The best times to visit are spring and autumn – spring (September – November) for the weather and the blossoms and autumn (March – May) for the autumn leaves and the weather. Winter can be cold but still days with blues skies are magnificent. Summer is hot. Vicki

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    1. Hi Anonymous. You are right of course. I should have included Canberra. I just didn't think about it -which both you and I know is ironic - lol. To be fair, I intended this post as more of a practical guide than a destination guide. I hope to post some destination guides soon but have so many other things I want to write about that it may be a while. When I do, I promise, Canberra will be second on my list after Sydney.

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  5. I need to keep this post in my planning list! We are planning a 3 month road trip around Australia next year (We are doing one year in NZ right now) and this will really help with all the planning. Thanks for sharing :-)

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    1. Hi Selims, I have been following your travels. Please let me know if there is any help I can give you in planning your Aus trip. My e-mail address is on my 'Contact' page.

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    2. I reread this post again and it is so much more useful now as we are planning our 7 weeks in Australia - March 25 to May 12 2016 - just bought our tickets so very excited. We fly into Melbourne and fly out of Cairns, renting a campervan to drive from Melbourne to Cairns and lots in between. Have loads of questions! Will send you an email, thanks for offering to help in planning the trip :-)

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    3. I will be delighted to help. D and I have just come back from Cairns and I am about to publish a series of posts on things to do there.

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  6. Great coverage and excellent information on Australia

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  7. What a great and detailed guide. You definitely spent a lot of time on it. People don't realize how big Australia is and you can't just hop around from city to city.

    You could also add Uber under transportation- I know Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane have it for sure. A cab ride to the airport from our house in the city is $50 but Uber is just under $30.

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    1. Hi Courtney. Thanks. I didn't think of Uber. I don't know anyone who has used it. I do know that it is illegal in N.S.W (Sydney) and probably in Melbourne and Brisbane as well. It operates outside the law daring the authorities to prosecute it. Right now there is a bit of a stalemate going on while the government works out what to do.

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  8. We loved our four months in Toowoomba and Darwin. Brisbane is a lovely city, very dynamic. Excellent post, very comprehensive. Well done!

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    1. Hi Betsy. I have a friend who lives in Toowoomba. He is very proud of his town. I don't think I have ever been there though - better put it on my list!

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  9. Great post - as an Aussie, it cracks me up that every time we come home the kids flip out about the plane being sprayed....we have the same conversation every time. I don't get that they don't remember it...

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    1. Hi Lydia. Ironically I know one of the guys who's company used to supply that spray. I don't think they do it anymore though - at least not on every flight. We haven't seen it used for a while and we return to Australia a lot.

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  10. A great resource here. Though would like to add, I live in Perth the winter months of July and August are cold down to about 17C, wet and windy - it is the wind that really ruins it. Of course during this time it is perfect to explore the stunning North West, where it will be warm and dry.

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    1. Hi Sally-Ann. Thank you for that. I'll add it in. I have been to Perth in summer and in spring but never winter.

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  11. Great tips they cover just about all the basics.

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    1. Hi Rhianna. Thank you. That was the idea - I want to shamelessly promote Australia.

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  12. This is a very comprehensive guide Lyn, I don't think you left anything off.
    Thanks for joining in #wednesdaywanderlust

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    1. Hi Malinda. Haha - wait till you see the next one - things to do in Aus.

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  13. Great tips!
    I live here and have travelled a fair bit overseas and find our immigration and customs fellas quite scary! But that's good I suppose, at least they are doing a great job protecting our borders!

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    1. Hi Zita. We have found the immigration guys unfailingly polite. The quarantine inspectors can be pretty mean though at times. We often travel with bicycles. The bike bags are too wide to fit through the arrival lanes. We have been directed quite rudely more than once to turn the bags on their sides - this is difficult, dangerous and can damage the bikes but in the end we have had no choice. It annoys me because it is so unnecessary - it is a simple thing to let us through without having to negotiate the too narrow lanes - okay whinge over.

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  14. To recommend Telstra as mobile phone company of choice seems to me a big 'no no'. No other company is as expensive, and their service sucks. On top of it Telstra seems to have only a slight advantage in coverage, in some regions Vodafone can offer better services.
    To save money I would always recommend buying from resellers (companies who sell phone plans using the big providers networks), my top choices would be:
    https://www.aldimobile.com.au/ Discounter chain, uses Telstra 3G network
    http://www.amaysim.com.au/ the first company to offer discounted prepaid mobile on Vodafone
    The advantage is, that you can buy a SIM card of either provider at many retail outlets throughout the country. Aldi is a (German) chain of food stores, found along the east coast, Amaysim cards can be bought at Newsagencies or at Woolworth and Coles supermarkets at the information desk.

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    1. Hi Juergen. Ironically I have an Aldi sim myself but we had enormous trouble setting it up so, unless their service has improved, I wouldn't recommend them. It uses the Telstra 3G network outside of the big cities and gives me much better coverage than David's Vodafone sim. We find Vodaphone pretty useless in the countryside, especially in relation to data. David keeps it because the Aldi sim I have doesn't roam at all outside of Australia.

      In relation to price, I was thinking more of the advantage in buying a local sim over the extortionate roaming charges tourists pay if they use their home sim. In the end, like most things it probably comes down to a balance between cost and convenience. We don't mind paying a bit more for the convenience of an easy set up but I understand why that doesn't work for everyone.

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    2. We used to live on the North Coast of NSW, and there Vodafone had better coverage than Telstra. I used to own an old Samsung phone with a 'Blue Tick', a Telstra symbol to classify the device as suitable for weak reception in rural areas - but still encountered lots of gaps on the Pacific Highway between Byron Bay and Sydney... Australia's network, from our experience, is far behind other countries with similar distances between population centres.

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  15. Great information for travellers to Australia. I am saving this - hopefully I will need the information someday soon.

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    1. Hi Donna. If you ever plan a trip here and you have any questions just let me know.

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  16. What a great intro for visitors to Australia. I've never been, but will re-read this when I do visit someday.

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    1. Hi Carole. I hope you make it one day - it's a long way from just about everywhere but there is so much here when you arrive.

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  17. Great tips, thanks! We adjusted pretty well to driving in Queensland when we were there, but didn't make any long road trips.

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    1. Hi Gypsies. The driving thing really isn't as hard as people think it might be.

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  18. Lyn this article is so helpful in light of our upcoming trip! Bookmarking it and sending it on to our friends.

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    1. Hi Sue. Thank you. Just let me know if there is anything you want to know.

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  19. 30 April 2015 at 13:59
    I'd love to go to Australia next year (if there a deals on flights!) and will know to come back here to do my trip planning! I'm glad to read what you wrote about dangerous creatures. That's the one thing I was really worried about when it came to visiting Australia!

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    1. Lyn Lindfield 30 April 2015 at 14:26
      Hi Bryna. I always laugh when people worry about the dangerous creatures. Honestly, they just aren't an issue.

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