Trip duration: 8/26/15 to 9/1/2015
Route: Dallas => Sydney;
Sydney => Dallas Sydney => Honolulu => Phoenix => Dallas
Flying Method: 90K AA miles DFW->SYD (Bus); SYD->HNL->PHX->DFW (Eco). The majority of the miles were from the 75,000 sign-on bonus from the AA Executive master card.
It was almost a year ago today when I had this crazy idea to book a getaway hundreds and thousands of miles away. After waiting anxiously for this trip to happen, my passport now happily scores an Australian stamp. Few days before leaving, I decided to stay an extra day in Sydney, hence all the extra connections on the return flight. It was well worth it as I got to see everything I had on the list plus a couple more.
What a beautiful city Sydney is! For a first time visitor, I was in awe by how friendly the people are, how diverse the city is, and how convenient it is to get around. Thanks to social media and the Internet which brings the world closer than ever, my visit to Sydney wasn’t so solo after all. The company made the trip more interesting and entertaining, and made me like Sydney that tiny bit more.
Here’s a run-down on my attempt to make footprints in Down Under and some random facts:
- Get an opal card for public transit. I got mine at the airport upon arrival. It’s good for train, bus, and ferry rides and is reloadable. Train ride to/from the international terminal into the city is around A$15 each way and is very quick and convenient (it takes less than 30 mins to get to Circular Quay from the airport). I loaded A$50 (approx $35) for my 5 day stay and it was plenty enough.
- On Sundays, public transit costs A$2.50 all day with unlimited local rides using an opal card. What a steal.
- Do do the Sydney bridge climb. I did the night climb and got to view the city with all the pretty lights (prebooked through viator.com)
- Blue Mountains – I would place this on the bottom of the to-see list if I were to do it all over again. I signed up for a tour but you can actually take a bus there on your own.
- Featherdale Wild Life Park – This was part of the Blue Mountains tour and the only part I really enjoyed. How can you not love koalas. 🙂
- Manly Beach – One of the coolest things happened while we were on the ferry to Manly. An unexpected dolphin sighting. OMG! It was magical as the morning sunlight sparkled on the water and the dolphin did his happy dance.
- Bondi to Coogee walk – The walk took me about 2 hours to finish. There were plenty of joggers and furry friends on the trail. It’s neat to see the ocean from various view points. I took a bus from the Circular Quay to Bondi, and from Coogee back to CQ. Buses may be normal for someone living there locally, but I was pretty proud of myself for being able to master the bus routes. Public transit is not typical in Dallas at all.
- Darling Harbour – There’s a ferris wheel! There are plentiful restaurants along the harbour with Seaworld and IMAX nearby. This is where lots of boat tours leave out of.
- Fish Market – We bought some fresh local oysters and salmon sashimi. Nom nom nom!!! A seagull boldly ate some sashimi piece from our tray. WTH. 🙁
- Borangaroo, Circular Quay, The Rocks, Sydney Opera House, Botanical Gardens, CBD (Central Business District) – These places are all very close by. The Borangaroo has a pretty awesome view of the Sydney Bridge and is so pretty at night. After walking all day, errrday, I finally was a proud holder of the 30K steps/day trail shoe FitBit badge
- Waverton Peninsula Reserve, Balls Head Reserve – These are some viewing spots which give you a panoramic view of the Sydney Harbour and the city. I definitely wouldn’t have known without a local’s knowledge.
- Chinatown – Had some delicious Thai food from Home Thai, fried chicken from Hot Star, tonkatsu ramen from Gumshara and papaya juice/pastry from 85 degree. It’s like I’m back in Asia. There is actually quite a large population of Asians in Sydney (definitely alot more than Dallas).
Thanks to the Chase Hyatt credit card (2 free stays for an initial sign on bonus) plus 30K Hyatt gold passport points (transferred from Chase Sapphire Preferred), I was able to book 3 reward stays at the Park Hyatt. Otherwise, this place would totally be out of my reach. The Park Hyatt is located right on the harbour, and is next to the Sydney Harbour Bridge and across from the Opera House. I couldn’t have asked for a better location. Unfortunately I was hardly in the room to enjoy all the amenities. On the 4th night (my extended stay), I booked a room at the Meriton Serviced Apt near the Central Station and the hustle and bustle of the city. It felt more at home there since the Park Hyatt was just too out there for me.
Since I booked this trip literally close to a year out, I was able to be flexible and found award seatings on AA via Qantas Airlines (Qantas is part of the One World Alliance with American Airlines). It cost 62,500 one way for a business seat and 37,500 in economy. The gross total was 100,000 in AA miles but since I booked it using the AAdantage Platinum Select card, I was able to get 10% of the miles back (10,000). The award fee was a little over $100. However I ended up paying another $150 in change fees for changing my return flight (since my flight was not on American Medal)
Visa to Australia for U.S. citizens can be purchased electronically. It costs around $15 for a tourist visa which is good for 3 months from entrance. If you have U.S. Global Entry, you can use the Australian SmartGate to clear immigration. First you’ll use a self-service kiosk to obtain a receipt. You’ll then use this recipe at the security gate where a photo of you will be taken, in some magic ways the system compares the photo with your passport photo for similarity. If the photo matches, the gate will open and you can pass through. This photo thing didn’t work for me (nor for half of the people who tried it). But we were able to get into a shorter line as opposed to the non-citizen lines which were crowded with clueless people.
As most people pointed out when they found out I was going to Australia, I should have stayed longer. This was a newbie mistake and more so that the idea of traveling alone frightened me. After this trip though, my outlook definitely changed and I’m excited to book my next solo trip (but I also do miss having familiar faces and people to talk to when I’m on my own. It’s an intricate balance). Anywayz, why not let yourself be a little vulnerable, open your heart and mind, and just let your imagination and possibilities run wild. Until next time. 🙂