Mobile phones
Getting around

Part 2: Brisbane, Sydney

Map of Australia
01.01: KL -> Brisbane
02.01: Brisbane -> Sydney
03.01: Sydney
04.01: Sydney
05.01: Sydney -> Blue Mountains
06.01: Sydney -> Melbourne
07.01: Melbourne
08.01: Melbourne -> Yarra valley -> Healesville ->
09.01: Melbourne -> KL

01.01: KL -> Brisbane
Acacia B&B, Brisbane. 95 AUD (+ 10 AUD for the Internet, for a total of 105 AUD) for a simple room with A/C, TV, a fridge, water boiler and attached toilet with shower. Better if I don't comment on the room. The shower is very bad: a very thin jet of water comes out. Difficult to adjust the temperature (it's always either too cold or too hot) and it takes for ever to rinse away the shower gel. The A/C is only one block (as opposed to the A/C units in Malaysia, whose compressor is separate), therefore very noisy. The location is good, it's just that for this price in Malaysia you would get a nice room in a four star hotel.
Weather: sunny, blue sky with a very thin clouds layer in the Gold Coast. Surprisingly already hot in the early morning - it's not that hot in Malaysia in the early morning. Mostly overcast in the afternoon in Brisbane, with some blue sky in the early afternoon. Quite hot.

The plane lands on time at 7:40am local time in the airport of Coolangatta (Australia). I retrieve the luggage very quickly and am one of the first to go through immigration. Some questions regarding what I am going to do in Australia and what my job exactly is, then I go through customs. Here the customs officer opens all my bags, carefully searches everything. She complains that I didn't declare the medicines I carry with me for personal use. Which seems strange because all travellers carry some medicines with them (headache, antiacid, aspirin etc.). I've travelled to 50 countries so far and this is the first time somebody is rummaging so throuroughly my luggage and backpack.

The Coolangatta airport is actually not much of an airport. Despite the hot climate it has no air conditioning. It is quite small and only has one ATM. No travel agency where you can book a hotel. No free Internet access, just two Internet terminals for whích you need coins.

I find the ATM and get some cash (the max. amount which this ATM gives is AUD 400). Then I spot a grocery store which sells prepaid SIM cards for GSM mobile phones. After some discussion I purchase a Vodafone prepaid card for AUD 9.95 (comes with no airtime) and AUD 20 of airtime. Then surprisingly I'm unable to use the phone and put the airtime on it. Some discussion with the shop and it turns out that I have to activate the SIM card. Can they do it for me? No they can't, I have to call Vodafone customer support. But that number doesn't work. They suggest that I activate the card through the Internet. Fine, but both Internet terminals are occupied, so I switch on the computer and see if there is a WLAN hotspot. There is one, and for AUD 5 I purchase 30 minutes of airtime, which should suffice to activate the SIM card.

Well, they do not, because the Internet access through this WLAN hotspot is painfully slow. I have to wait for ever until the pages load. So I buy a drink, get some coins, then queue up at the Internet terminals. After some time it's my turn. I proceed through the Vodafone Australia web page and try to register. I get stuck with the address, because it refuses to take my address in Germany and insists on an Australian address, which I do not have. After some time a friendly Australian fellow gives me his address, which I enter into the system and finally I can register. But I still can't use the phone, because it won't let me enter the recharge code number. I can only do it with the mobile phone by dialling 1511 or 1555, but both service numbers are out of service.

In the meantime it is already 10am, I've lost almost two hours because of this matter and I'm quite irritated. I get back to the shop and ask to return the SIM card and a refund, but they refuse. So in the end I plug my German SIM card into the phone (wanted to avoid this, because calls will be more expensive and now calls from Germany will be routed to Australia because I just registered here), call a couple of hotels and book a room.

Then I look for a way to get to Brisbane. By taxi it is too expensive (100km to downtown Brisbane as I'm told), so I will take a bus. In fact it's not one bus, it's two buses and a train. First I take the airport bus to the bus stop of the bus Nr 765, then at 10:53am I fetch the bus Nr 765 to Robina station. While on the bus I get an idea of the place. Great long sandy beaches, lots of rivers, lakes, bays. Tons of sun. People in beachwear everywhere. Lots of hotels, motels, apartment complexes, shops, restaurants etc. This seems like the perfect area for a beach holiday.

At 11:30am we reach tran station of Robina, a small city. I take the next train, which leaves around 11:45am. I'm finally in the B&B at 1:30pm, well more than five hours after touching down in Gold Coast.

After taking a shower I leave the hotel at 2:20pm. I spend the whole afternoon walking around in the city and having some food. There is a dearth of interesting buildings or places. The overwhelming majority of the buildings in the city are probably less than 30-40 years old. From an architectural point of view the city is rather boring. I decide that I'll leave tomorrow for Sydney. I find a food court in a mall, which however for some strange reason is not open in the evening.

I take a ride in a giant ferris wheel from which you have a panorama view of Brisbane. The view from the top confirms once again that there is not much to see in Brisbane. I'm back in the hotel after dinner at 9pm.

02.01: Brisbane -> Sydney
Aspire hotel, Sydney. AUD 149 for a nice big room with A/C, TV, phone, ironing board + iron, nice elegant furniture, big attached bathroom with hairdryer, shampoo, shower gel etc. Four star feeling. The room is not cheap, but certainly worth the price. What a difference from the B&B I had in Brisbane. Booked through a travel agent in Brisbane who used quickbeds.com. Additional AUD 10 for 24h of Internet access in the room (WLAN).
Weather: overcast in Brisbane in the morning, not too hot, getting warmer around noon. Overcast and cold and windy in Sydney. Having acclimatised for three weeks in tropical and hot climates, I have to wear long trousers, warm underwear and a jacket.

I check out of the Acacia B&B at 10:40am. As a first thing I get more cash. This time the ATM of the ANZ bank next to the B&B allows me to get a larger amount of cash (AUD 800). Perhaps I should have withdrawn more than that, because I will spend over AUD 600 in the next half an hour. Then I walk towards Queen street, the main shopping street of Brisbane. I had spotted yesterday a travel agency advertising good prices for flights (Flight Centre). Well, those AUD 75 for a one-way flight to Sydney aren't available anymore. What I get is a flight with Quantas for AUD 190 at 3:15pm, more than twice the advertised fare. I also book a hotel for three nights in Sydney for an average price around AUD 140. The travel agent uses quickbeds.com to book the hotel.

In the meantime it's 11:20am and I'll need to catch the 1:41pm train to the airport, which gives me a bit over two hours to have a lunch and explore a bit the area. There are no good bakeries in the area (I would assume in the whole of Brisbane as well). Most bakeries serve pretty boring stuff, no special bread (like bread made out of multiple cereals for instance). Lots of muffins, but no mouth-watering food. No French or French-style bakeries anywhere. There are also no ice-cream parlours. I guess somebody could open an icecream parlour somewhere around Queen street and make a big business. From my brief experience it appears that Australia is a bit deficient on the food sector. Even the kebab places or Asian food stalls and restaurants are not that good. Will the situation in Sydney be better?

Around 1pm I fetch the bags in the hotel and walk to the train station. The train ticket to the airport costs AUD 14. There is no escalator going downwards to the platform, only in upward direction. To go down you must take a staircase - a bit tiring with a heavy bag, so I take an elevator. In any case, the infrastructure is quite poor in this train station: no A/C, escalators only in one direction.

The train leaves punctually at 1:41pm and arrives on time at 2:04pm at the domestic terminal of the airport. Then the chaos starts. Unbelievably huge queue of people at the check-in counters (actually these are baggage drop-offs, you first have to check in yourself at computer terminals). It appears that the baggage belt is broken. I've never experienced an airport with a broken baggage belt before. This is simply ridicolous. In any airport there are some systems, which may not break, because otherwise the entire airport shuts down, and one of these is the baggage belt in the check-in area.

So I queue up. Then after some time there is an announcement "all passengers on the flight QF 541 proceed to the counters 10-21...". Apparently they are calling people based on the flight. So I jump the queue and drop off my baggage at the counter. The flight takes off on time and arrives in Sydney on time.

The airport in Sydney has seen better days. It's quite old. Everything works fine, but you can see from the toilets for instance that things are pretty run down. In fact, an Internet search reveals that the current terminal was built in 1970. Long walking distance between the gates and the baggage retrieval area.

Once I have the bag, I go outside and take a taxi. According to my information the airport is only 8km from downtown Sydney, so the taxi can't be that expensive. In fact the bill turns out to be AUD 33.50. I then check in the hotel.

Since it is cold and windy, I get fully dressed with long pants, warm underwear and a jacket. At 7pm I leave the hotel for a walking tour of Sydney. I run pretty soon into what seems to be the Chinatown/Asiatown of Sydney. High concentration of Chinese, Japanese and other Asian restaurants. Lots of Asian people on the streets, probably many of them tourists.

I go to a Japanese restaurant for some food. Surprise, surprise another guy and me are the only non-Asians in this place. 95% of Asian customers in this place. Really curious situation. The food is not bad.

After dinner I explore a bit Sydney, walking through the central skyscraper area. Lots of HUGE and tall, featureless and ugly buildings, wide streets. Here Sydney is apparently trying to look like a big US city. Every now and then a colonial style building, but not many of them. The modern archictecture is boring. Lots of Asians, lots of Japanese on the streets. Some of them seem to be working here. The convenience stores, 7/11 etc. are almost all run by Asians. Still, Sydney is an order of magnitude more interesting than Brisbane. Will probably spend three full days here.

Plain, no-name bottled water is ridicolously expensive, AUD 3 to 5.50 per bottle of 1.5-2 litres. That is the same price as bottles of branded softdrinks of the same size, such as coke and sprite for instance. The same water costs RM 1-2 in Malaysia (AUD 0.5-1) and 40 Euro cents in Germany (80 cents of an AUD). Ice cream is also way to expensice: AUD 4.40 for one scoop (in Germany you pay the equivalent of AUD 1.80 for one scoop).

03.01: Sydney
Aspire hotel, Sydney
Weather: overcast and windy the whole day in Sydney. Less cold than yesterday. In the evening the sky opens up a bit.

Basically between 12pm and 10:20pm I'm out exploring Sydney. There are parts of Sydney which are really ugly, such as for instance the area around the Central Station. What is nice is the area around the St Mary cathedral, the botanical gardens, the opera house and the rocks. The ferry to cross the bay costs AUD 5.20 one way. Several weddings going in the botanical gardens and St Mary cathedral area.

04.01: Sydney
Aspire hotel, Sydney
Weather: sunny, blue sky the whole day. Some clouds in the evening. Warm enough to walk around with shorts and t-shirt, very windy. Quite cold in the evening in the harbour area. No rain.

Finally a nice sunny day with a blue sky. Not being in a hurry, I get up at 10:30am, book a trip to the Blue Mountains for the next day using a brochure found in the hotel lobby, have lunch around 1pm, then shortly before 2pm start exploring Sydney by foot. There is actually no need to use public transportation, because the central area of Sydney is relatively compact (everything in this central area is at most 2-3km away and it is fresh enough to walk.

Around 2:40pm I get into the Sydney observation tower for some panoramic views of Sydney (entry ticket is AUD 25). Long queue, 20 minutes at the ticket counter + 30-40 minutes to get into the elevator. Nice view of Sydney from the top, until the ocean.

Shortly after 4pm I'm done with the views and after some shopping in the souvenir shop I queue up for the lift to go down. Once down again I continue walking towards the botanical gardens and the Sydney opera house. Shortly before 6pm the highlight of the day happens. In the botanical gardens a whole flock of sulphur crested cockatoos get on a tourist sitting on a bench. These are rare birds which in Germany perhaps cost 5000 Euro, and here there is an entire flock in one place. These birds are less than a metre away from me, have no fear. One cockatoo flies on my shoulder and refuses to go away. I start walking away, with this bird stubbornly sitting on my shoulder. Finally after 100 metres the bird decides that it is time to rejoin its fellows. Tourists laugh at the sight of a guy walking with a parrot on his shoulder.

I walk towards the opera house. Great light, great atmosphere, lots of people sitting at cafe tables having a good time. I buy some food at the circular quay. In the meantime it is 7pm and I slowly start walking towards Macquarie point, from which there is a good view of the opera house and the harbour bridge. Once I arrive I wait for the sunset and go back to the hotel after that.

Copyright 2009 Alfred Molon