Author Topic: A trip to the magical Down Under: ZCN's trip report to Australia and New Zealand  (Read 11951 times)

Offline ZCN

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Introduction:

About one year ago I began to plan a trip to an area I had heard a lot of amazing things about: Australia and New Zealand. Being someone who appreciates scenery and nature I had always wanted to snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef. I was also pretty interested in New Zealand based on the glowing reports that people have posted on the forums already. As I started to plan this trip I came across several obstacles. First, due to my wife's and I work schedules we only had about 10 days of free time that we could use for vacation. Given that we wanted to spend time in both Australia and New Zealand and the places that we wanted to go visit were pretty spread out, this presented a unique challenge. Another challenge was one that people in the frequent-flier community are well aware of: there is limited direct flights from the US to Australia and New Zealand, and there is even more limited award seats available on these direct flights. Not only that but it can be very difficult if not impossible at times to find a award space in business or first class on these routes. There is of course the option to route through Asia but given that it doubles the amount of travel time and we were on very tight schedules it simply wasn't an option to route through Asia for us. Another very big challenges faced by many others is the fact that Australia and New Zealand are very strict with regards to bringing in food from a different country. This poses problems with bringing in Kosher food, and in New Zealand it can be pretty hard to find kosher food. Iíll talk more about how we dealt with these challenges as I go through our trip.

Originally we were thinking of taking our trip at the end of December, but due to some scheduling issues we ended up deciding to go in the middle of January. One thing that is important to note was that we did not make the most economical use of our miles when flying or staying at a hotels. This was due to the fact that we were traveling during the busy season and there is limited availability for flights and hotels. While I knew we were spending more miles than we would have if we went to a different place, some travel experiences may only come up once in a lifetime so I swallowed the extra cost in miles of going Down Under.

One thing that I think is important to note is that aside from hotels in Sydney and Melbourne there are not a lot of luxury hotels. This is especially true if you go outside of major cities, such as Cairns.  We have been fortunate to stay at the Park Hyatt Seoul, Conrad Koh Samui, and other amazing hotels but aside from a few exceptions there is not that much luxury in Australia and New Zealand.

In the end our flights looked like this:

CVG-DEN   UA F
DEN-SFO UA F
SFO-SYD  UA F
SYD-CNS Virgin Australia Y
CNS-SYD  Qantas F
SYD-AKL  EK F
AKL-ZQN NZ Y
CHC-AKL NZ Y
AKL-LAX NZ Y
LAX-ORD UA Y
ORD-DTW UA Y


We were not able to find business or first saver award space on United or Qantas. I had originally booked United mileage tickets through Asia is Asiana first class before the February 1 devaluation. In the end I was able to change the ticket and add some additional miles to purchase a standard first class award ticket to Australia in United first class.

For the flight from Sydney to Cairns I used Singapore Airline miles to book Virgin Australia in economy class. For Cairns back to Sydney I used American miles to book Qantas business class. I then used 100,000 American Express points that were transferred over to Emirates for a first class ticket on the A380 from Sydney to Auckland. From Auckland to Queenstown I used Singapore air miles to redeem a domestic fight on Air New Zealand. And from Christchurch back to the US I used United miles for economy class on Air New Zealand and United.

For hotels, I used 50,000 Hilton points per night for the Hilton in Cairns, and I used 50,000 club Carlson points for our one night stay in Radisson in Sydney. In New Zealand, the hotels we stayed in were supposed to cost us about $100 a night, however Orbitz ran a promotion whereby if you booked a round trip (refundable) flight you got $100 off a hotel booking. A few months later they also ran a $100 off hotel stay coupon through Visa checkout. We were able to use these promos to save quite a bit of money, and in the end our total cost for our stays was approximately $30 a night.

Overall this trip was amazing. We had lot of fun, saw some incredible scenery and met some great people, and we also had some very interesting moments as well. I would definitely recommend going to visit New Zealand and I think Australia is pretty good as well.

As is my way of writing trip reports, I'll go through a little bit of what we did each day and put a particular emphasis on tips and tricks I learned to help people on their trip when they go.

Offline Adam101

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Can't wait for the actual TR

Offline philbenjoe

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Sounds like a real lot of miles... waiting for the TR
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Offline ZCN

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We started our journey on a CRJ 700 express flight from Cincinnati to Denver where we were going to connect to San Francisco. The flight itself was bumpy the entire time due to the fact that we were riding in middle of the jet stream. I was interested to see if anything had changed in domestic first class compared to our experience last time when the two flight attendants serving our flight got into a disagreement before the plane left the gate. I was also interested to see the upgraded food offerings that United was offering. Iíll say that I definitely noticed an improvement in customer service. We were actually addressed by name by the flight attendant which was really nice touch especially on a regional jet. We were constantly offered refills on our drinks throughout the flight and the snacks that we were offered seemed to be of better quality than the last time we flew. Overall experience was a positive one and I was pretty impressed by the service that was offered.
In Denver we connected onto our 757 that was taking us to San Francisco. One thing I love about the 757 is that you turn left for business class when boarding the aircraft, which makes the cabin feel much more exclusive and private. The service on this fight was good as well, and they actually served dinner on this flight, however we were unable to eat anything because they do not have serve any kosher meals. We landed pretty much on time in San Francisco and had about a one hour layover before our flight to Sydney.

We went to the United first lounge and we were welcomed in without any delay. The lounge is nice and small but has a rich feel to it. Given that the last time that we flew on United internationally we were not given kosher meals even though we ordered ahead of time I took the time to speak to the agents in the lounge to confirm that we actually had kosher meals on board the plane. While I had some extra food as a back up I definitely preferred to have actual meals on the flight and I also wanted to see what company United uses for catering. I ended up speaking to a agent who had a global services tag on his shirt, and he was exceptionally helpful. He actually went down to the gate area, went onto the plane and asked the flight attendants if they had kosher meals on board for us. When we went to board the plane he met us at the gate area and told us that he has confirmed that our meals were on board. This was definitely excellent customer service and something United could use a lot more of. While in the lounge we both got some drinks and showered in preparation for the long flight to Sydney, and we both got some last minute stuff done before boarding our flight.

As we get settled in to the spacious seats, we were offered pre-departure beverages as well as amenity kits and blankets and pillows. The first class cabin was full, so there was a lot going on all at once as the flight attendants served everyone as quickly as possible. Thankfully we departed on time, and before we knew it we were airborne heading out over the Pacific towards Sydney. On the way out I took advantage for the first time of United's channel 9, which allows passengers to listen in communications between the pilots and air-traffic control, which was pretty cool.

After about 40 minutes the flight attendants began dinner service. We were presented with our kosher meals, which were Regal made. My wife was given a main course of chicken, while I got a main course of beef. In general I find airline food to be decent and okay, and this meal was no exception. Both my wife and I felt that the meat and chicken were a little bit too hard but otherwise the meal was fine. It was interesting because the meals were labeled first class, however they did not seem much different than the meals I have been offered in economy class.

In general the service was friendly and efficient. I was pleasantly surprised by the constant refills of our drinks offered by the flight attendants as my previous experience with United was not that great. I should note that the routes from LAX and San Francisco to Sydney have a reputation for having very "senior" flight attendants, and on our flight I found this to be true. I would say that the youngest flight attendant was in her early 50s and it seemed the oldest ones were probably close to 70. This did not affect the service that we received, however it is something to note.

One of the things that is so great about the timing of the United flights from LAX and San Francisco is that if done right you can really minimize the amount of jet lag that you experience. Our flight from San Francisco left at 11 o'clock Pacific time, which was 2 AM Eastern time, and we landed at 8:40AM Sydney time. Given that the flight is about 14 hours long, if you are able to stay up for the first 4 hours or so and then get 8-9 hours of sleep you will wake up at around 6AM Sydney time after a full nightís sleep, which puts you right onto a normal schedule. And this is what we made sure to do; after spending about 4 hours or so eating dinner and watching a movie we were ready to go to sleep, and at that point we had about 10 hours of flying time left. We laid our lie flat seats down, and a flight attendant came by to put a mattress pad on our seats to make the beds feel more comfortable.
We both found the blankets and pillows to be comfortable and with earplugs and eye shades provided in the amenity kit we slept for almost 9 hours. We woke up to the flight attendants getting ready to serve us breakfast. I asked the flight attendants for a place where I could daven without disturbing them, and they showed me a space off to the side by the kitchen where I could do my thing without getting in their way. Breakfast was again pretty good but nothing special, and before we knew it we were descending into Sydney.
Because of the flight timing and the times we made sure to sleep, we were able to move right into Sydney time without any jet lag. We did a whole bunch of stuff on our first day in Sydney without feeling tired at all, which was really amazing. I canít overstate how important this can be, especially if like us you have limited time in Australia. Instead of spending a few days adjusting to the time zone, if you do it right you can step right into things without missing a beat.

Next up: Our first day in Australia and Sydney.


Offline sam28

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any pictures please ?

Offline Aj3042

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any pictures please ?
I'm hoping that in relation to seeing New Zealand pictures of his plane seat aren't much.

Offline Chapshnell

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Looking forward to more. Post pics

Offline 3yummyboys

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Can't wait to see the rest of the TR

Offline AJK

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Currently planning trip to CNS.

Can you tell me how long you think one needs there?

3 days too much? Too little?
2015: 116K bkd | 1.6M brnd | F: OZ,NH,AA,EK | J: UA,CA,TK,DL,TN,AF,VA | LIH,NRT,ROR,PEK,CNS,BOB,MEL,TLV & Pacific Hopper

Offline ZCN

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Upon landing in Sydney we headed straight for immigration. There were three separate lines at customs for foreigners. There was the regular line, a 2nd line for those traveling in business class with expedited access, and a 3rd line for "Smart gate". Smart gate is for certain Australian passengers, as well as US passengers who have Global Entry which we have. The line for regular immigration was probably about 30 minutes long, and while we had been given expedited customs passes from United before we landed, the line for that was also fairly long. With that in mind we looked for the smart gate line, which I had read about before we left. The signage for the for smart gate was not that clear, however there was an immigration officer who was helping to direct traffic who guided us over to the right area.

We were instructed to scan our passports on a machine and after answering a few basic questions we were given a slip of paper and proceeded to the dedicated customs window where we met with an agent. For those who have global entry, the process is very similar to what you go through when you arrive in the US. The whole process took no more than 10 minutes, if that. We then proceeded to the baggage claim area, where we had to wait for about 15 minutes for a luggage to come out on the conveyor belt. It was interesting because United apparently had an agent at the luggage area who was monitoring how fast the luggage came out onto the belt. Somehow she knew we were traveling in first class and she apologized that it was taking so long for our bags to come out. Again, this was another nice touch from United.

While we were waiting for our bags to come out on the belt, a customs agent approached us and asked to see our declaration form. She was very surprised to see that we had marked off that we were bringing food into Australia, and she actually praised us for doing so because very few people apparently report that. She told us that once we have got our bags we should head over to the special quarantine area. After getting our bags and heading over to that area we waited for about 5 to 10 minutes for a customs agent to become available.

When we met the customs agent who would be examining our food, we got our first sense of how warm and friendly Australians are. Our interaction with him did not seem like something between a government official and a tourist, but much more like two friends who were talking about what they are allowed to do. The agent was so relaxed and easy-going and he spent most of his time with us smiling and laughing and making jokes. If government officials in the US would have half of the warmth and friendliness that this official had then dealing with the government would be a pleasure.

As far as the actual inspection went, he asked us what food we were bringing in, and we told him that we had some bread, some snacks, and meal mart meals which contained meat and chicken. He asked to see just the meal mart meals and after looking at one of the boxes for a minute he said that it was fine to bring it into the country, although he did say that he wished the box would say that the meat and chicken that was in there had come directly from the US as opposed to potentially coming from another country and being produced in the US. With that out of the way we moved into the airport.

We had a flight later that day on Virgin Australia at 2:00 in the afternoon, and while this was a separate ticket I was very much hoping we could use the Virgin Australia transfer desk. Some background: In Sydney airport, there are two separate terminals, the international terminal and the domestic terminal. In order to get from one to the other, you need to take a bus which costs about five dollars per person and the trip takes about 20 minutes. Virgin Australia operates a transfer desk in the international terminal where you can drop off your luggage after your international flight and they will transfer your luggage for you, as well as put you on one of their free shuttle buses to the domestic terminal. This is really meant for passengers who fly Virgin Australia internationally and who have a domestic flights to connect to, and when I called before our trip I was told that I would not be allowed to use the transfer desk since we were flying United from SFO. Even so, I was really hoping that they would allow us to check our luggage and get a boarding pass because we had a lot that we wanted to do and limited time. After exiting into the arrivals area of the airport we asked for directions and turned left and walked approximately 10 minutes to the end of the terminal where the Virgin Australia transfer desk was located. Thankfully, they allowed us to check in without any problems whatsoever. We even asked for exit row seats and they gave them to us with no problem. We make sure to empty our carry-ons out into our checked luggage so that we would have room to put food that we were buying for Shabbos in, and as we left, they handed us free bus passes for the bus that will take us over to the domestic terminal which was a nice touch. However we had other plans and as soon as we got out of the airports we began our aggressive schedule.

By the time we had left the airport it was approximately 9:30 and since we had checked in and had our boarding passes I estimated that we needed to be back at the airport by 1:20 for our 2:10 departure. We first wanted to walk across part of the Sydney Harbor Bridge while it was light, because while we would be back in Sydney in a few days, it would be dark then. Then our plan was to go to a supermarket named Coles in the Jewish area which is sort of like a ShopRite with a kosher section. After that, we wanted to go to Katzyís to get Shabbos food that Coles did not sell, as well as get food for lunch and supper for that night. Thankfully, Sydney airport is relatively close to downtown and we ended up taking the train to downtown which took about 15 minutes.

We got off at the Circular Quay station which is located right by the harbor area. It was a beautiful sunny day with temperatures in the upper 70s and we began to look for the route that would get us up to the bridge, however there is no clear signage of how to get up to the bridge. After a couple of wrong turns and a lot of asking directions we finally found the staircase that leads up to the bridge. Note that there is the well-known bridge climb, which costs a nice amount of money and allows you to actually climb up onto the frame of the bridge, however you can walk on the bridge free of charge which is what we wanted to do. After climbing the many steps to get up to the bridge we were treated to beautiful views of Sydney Harbor. We walked for about 10 minutes which got us about a third of the way across and then due to time constraints we turned around and headed back down. Once at the bottom I used my Uber app on my phone to get a car to take us to Coles supermarket. After a 20 minute ride which cost us about 30 Australian dollars we got to Coles and began to shop for food for Shabbos. There wasn't a huge amount of food but there were about four or five shelves of food, including a refrigerated section that had deli and other meats as well as cheese and some fish. The store also had Challah and bread. After paying for our purchases with an AMEX card (no foreign exchange fee), we headed out to grab an Uber to take us to Katzyís, which was about a 10 minute ride.

Here is where things began to get interesting. It had taken us longer than we expected to find the Harbor Bridge, and we can also spent more time in Coles then we had expected, so we were running a little behind schedule. From Katzyís it was a 30 minute drive to the airport and so we needed to leave by about 12:55  in order to get to the airport in time for our flight. By the time we arrived at Katzyís it was already 12:45. I knew that it was going to be a rush but I figured it was doable given that we didnít need that much food. However, the idea of making the food that we had requested in such a short of amount of time seemed to put the staff at Katzyís into major stress mode. They were not so pleases that we wanted things so quickly but to their credit they got our food ready as fast as possible. It did take longer than I expected to get all the food that we ordered and we ended up leaving Katzyís at 1:10. We called a Uber and he was already waiting for us by the time Katzyís finished up with the food. We got into the car and told the driver that we have a flight at 2:10. Now, coming from New York having a tight schedule like that is not necessarily a big deal, however in Australia apparently it is a huge deal. Our driver was not sure that we were going to make it in time and he kept on wondering why we left so late. Thankfully we didn't have too much traffic and we pulled up to the airport at about 1:40.

And here is where we learned about the magic of Australian and New Zealand airports. There was a line of about 25 people ahead of us in security. In addition, after going through security we were randomly selected for a secondary screening. Even with all that we were able to make our flight without any problems. To recap, we showed up at the airport at 1:39, went through security, got a secondary screening, walked to the gate, I went to use the restroom, and when I came out it was 1:50. Yup, exactly 11 minutes to do all that. Our flight had not yet even started boarding by the time we reached the gate area.  The reason why we were able to do all this in such a short time is that airports in Australia and New Zealand are super efficient. When going through security you do not have to take off your shoes, do not have a take off your belt, and just walk through a plain metal detector. It takes four times as long to do security on passengers in the US than in Australia and New Zealand
A few minutes after we arrived at our gate boarding for our Virgin Australia flight to Carins was announced. Boarding was done through the front and back rows of the plane. Here we got another lesson in how efficiently things are run in Australia. It took a total of about 15 minutes for them to load a mostly full 737-800.
 We settled into our emergency exit row seats and we actually ended up with no one in between us so it was a very comfortable and roomy flight for us. The general flying experience was really good. We waited just a few minutes for takeoff, and the three hour flight to Cairns was very smooth. The crew passed out snack boxes and offered complimentary drinks. The meals they offered were not kosher, however we dug into our schnitzel sandwiches and fries from Katzyís which were really good. They were a bit expensive and cost approximately $13 apiece but they were really good and very filling.
We got a good glimpse of how warm and friendly Australians are by nature. The flight attendants working this flight were exceptionally warm and chatty, and I got into a whole conversation with a flight attendant at one point about what routes he flies, where he has been to, etc. If only the flight attendants for US airlines could be half as friendly!!

After making a smooth touchdown in Cairns we pulled into a jet way and made our way to baggage claim. Cairns is a pretty modern small airport. We grabbed a taxi to take us to the Hilton Cairns, which cost about 22 Australian dollars. Upon check-in we were upgraded to a deluxe room on account of us being Hilton gold members, but the upgrade was nothing significant. I was pretty surprised at appearance of the hotel as it has fairly good reviews but it definitely seemed run down to me. The room looked pretty worn out to me, and the bathroom seemed to be in only a little bit better condition. One thing that was nice is that each room has a balcony, and our balcony had a great view overlooking the river.

This Hilton costs 50,000 points per night, and while the room was functional and everything was okay I thought that the price did not begin to justify the room.

In any event we put our stuff away in the fridge and hit the sack early to get ready for our big snorkeling trip on the Great Barrier Reef the next day.
« Last Edit: May 18, 2015, 10:46:36 PM by ZCN »

Offline ZCN

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I'll try to post some pics soon as well.

Offline TimT

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I'll try to post some pics soon as well.
Please do. Been waiting for those.

Offline ZCN

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Currently planning trip to CNS.

Can you tell me how long you think one needs there?

3 days too much? Too little?

That's a tricky one. There's not much to do besides for the Reef, so I would just do a 24 hour stay and do a full day trip (or longer) to the Reef. The problem is that the weather can make conditions bad for diving and snorkeling - the seas were rough when we went out. Ideally, you would come for a few days so you can hopefully get a good weather day, but then your sitting around wasting your time....There is a rain forest near Carins which people highly recommend but it's expensive - $100 per person IIRC. Other than that there's really little to do in the area.

Offline ZCN

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Please do. Been waiting for those.

Don't get too excited ;) The best pics by far are of New Zealand.

Offline AJK

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That's a tricky one. There's not much to do besides for the Reef, so I would just do a 24 hour stay and do a full day trip (or longer) to the Reef. The problem is that the weather can make conditions bad for diving and snorkeling - the seas were rough when we went out. Ideally, you would come for a few days so you can hopefully get a good weather day, but then your sitting around wasting your time....There is a rain forest near Carins which people highly recommend but it's expensive - $100 per person IIRC. Other than that there's really little to do in the area.

Current plans are to arrive in CNS early morning Thurs and to dive the GBR on Thursday and Friday and then spend Shabbas there before darting off to the Whitsundays.

Can't risk being in CNS only 24 hours and having bad weather that day, ruining 12,000 miles of flying :)
2015: 116K bkd | 1.6M brnd | F: OZ,NH,AA,EK | J: UA,CA,TK,DL,TN,AF,VA | LIH,NRT,ROR,PEK,CNS,BOB,MEL,TLV & Pacific Hopper

Offline Aj3042

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Wow this TR takes detailed to a new level. 3 huge posts before even getting there.

Offline ZCN

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Canary Wharf



Sydney Harbor





Offline morgs

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WooHoo!! The pics have arrived!! ;D

Offline ZCN

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There are quite a number of companies that will take you out to the Great Barrier Reef. I spent a significant amount of time researching most of them because I wanted to have the best experience possible. Most of the companies that run boats out have pretty big boats that carry up to 200 people, and they have docking stations out on the reef where they park the boat and you snorkel or dive from that floating station. Examples of such companies are Reef Magic and Ocean Spirit Cruises. The experience on these larger boats can be impersonal based on the reviews that I have read. Apparently, you are given a number and when it is your turn to go out and into the water you are called by your number. If you want to do your own thing these companies can be a good experience, however for us the idea of being on a boat for eight hours with 180 other people was not that exciting. In addition, we had limited experience with snorkeling and we wanted a company that would help us in case we had trouble while snorkeling, which the bigger boats did not seem to offer. We also wanted a company that specializes in snorkeling, as opposed to companies that do primarily diving as well as snorkeling. Lastly, we wanted the least amount of people possible on the boat in order to create less problems with half dressed people walking around.

There is a highly rated company called Wavelength up in Port Douglas which is about a one hour drive from Cairns. They specialize in snorkeling and actually do not to do any diving. However, given that we would be arriving back at four in the afternoon and it was a Friday this was not an option for us.
 In the end we found a company named Seastar which seemed to have everything we were looking for. They have very good ratings on trip advisor, and they only take up to 35 people on board the boat. While they offered dives, the mainly focus on snorkeling. They are a bit more expensive than other snorkeling tours but we felt it was worth it. They snorkel from the boat as opposed to a platform out on the reef, however itís worth pointing out they only snorkel in 2 places while some other companies go to 3.

The marina where all the boats leave from is about a five minute walk from the Hilton. When coming out with of the hotel you just to make a left turn and walk for two minutes and you are there. There are about five different piers that the boats leave from, and some companies require you to check in at the main terminal while others want you to check in on the boat itself,(like Seastar)  so I would recommend checking with the tour company beforehand to see what they want you to do. Be forewared that since all the boats leave at pretty much the same time it's a bit of a zoo at the piers, so I would leave extra time for getting to your boat.

We were welcome aboard the Seastar boat and we were asked to sign in. After confirming our credit card information we went upstairs and grabbed seats on the upper deck.  A few minutes later we began to pull out and the crew had us gather on the front deck for a short safety discussion.

One piece of advice that I would offer is to check the marine forecast ahead of time and not just the general forecast. I mistakenly checked the general forecast which called for winds at about 5 to 10 mph and so I assumed that the water would be pretty calm. However I learned that this was a mistake as the seas were pretty rough. I am not an expert in measuring waves but from my limited experience I would say we encountered wave heights of 5 to 10 feet on the ocean, which was not fun at all. Most of the passengers including us spent our trip over to the reef on the bottom deck breathing in the fresh air and trying not to puke. And we had almost all taken anti-nausea medication before we left as advised by the crew. To give you an idea of how bumpy it was, if you wanted to walk around you needed to hold onto something, and going up and down the stairs was very challenging. Honestly, if I had known how rough the water would be before we had left I'm not sure if I would have gone. Then again, it was our only chance to go out on the reef. Keep in mind that because they only take 35 passengers the boat is much smaller than the bigger boats that go out to the reef. I'm not sure how much of a difference a bigger boat would have made but it probably would have been more comfortable.

Before I get into the details of the trip one thing I want to mention is the issue of people walking around in their bathing suits. We had come up with a good idea, which really worked out well. Because we were going in stinger season, all snorkelers and divers have to wear a full body suit. And because it is a pain to take the suits on and off people just left their bodysuits on for the vast majority of the trip. With that happening there was very little exposure to people walking around half undressed.

After about a 45 minute trip to the reef we arrived at a place called Michaelmas Cay which is a small island that is a bird sanctuary. We parked offshore and got into smaller boats that are parked there for the purpose of bringing people onto the island. We could only go onto a small portion of the island as it is a protected bird area, so we just used that as a group to put our fins on and make final adjustments before we started snorkeling. Once everyone was ready we followed our guides into the water and began snorkeling. The truth is Michaelmas Cay is not a great place for snorkeling as there isnít that much to see, but it is a good experience to learn and get comfortable with how to snorkel. We spent about 45 minutes to an hour in the water with our tour consisting of us swimming around as a group and then stopping for a few minutes while our guide pointed out different things that was beneath us. The water was not as rough as it was on the open ocean but the waves were still about 2 to 3 feet high which made snorkeling difficult. It also made it hard to swing over to other people or to catch up to the group if you got left behind. All in all it was a good experience for us just to get in the water with our equipment and start to have the experience of snorkeling.

We then got back onto the boat and had lunch for about 20 minutes. When we made our reservations, the company asked us what type of lunch we preferred and we opted for the vegan option even though we knew we probably could not eat it. We had brought on board some pre made tuna fish sandwiches and which was in a hot and cold bag that we gave to the crew when we had boarded the boat. Unfortunately, I didnít have much appetite for lunch. I wasnít nauseous but the constant movement of being in the water for the last 3 hours had taken away my appetite. Aside from a 5 minute break from the constant motion of the waves when we were on the island at Michaelmas Cay there was no break in constantly feeling the waves. My lack of appetite for lunch would have consequences shortlyÖ.

After lunch we rode for approximately 20 to 30 minutes, until we reached our next and last stop, Hastings Reef, where we were to spend 2 hours at. Since this was in open water with no island to protect us, the waves were higher here, about 2-3 feet high at times. This created problems for us snorkeling, as we were constantly being picked up and slammed down, which made snorkeling difficult. We had brought an underwater case for our camera but it was hard to actually get pictures since we were constantly moving.
 In this area there was no official guide-led group, however several of the staff did go into the water and if you wanted more of a guided tour or if you were a poor snorkeler you could go around with them. This area was really nice, with tons of different kinds of fish and beautiful coral beneath us. We even ran into a large school of tiny fish who swam right into us, and there were some very colorful and large fish swimming below us that we were able to spot. This was much more like the famous Great Barrier Reef that I had heard of.

Unfortunately, after about 45 minutes in the water, I began to feel very weak and nauseous. After trying to stick it out I headed back to the boat with my wife to just try to relax and drink. I was hoping that after a few minutes I would be able to get back into the water, however that was not meant to be. I spent the next hour and a half on the boat laying down and just trying to feel better. There was at least one other person on the boat who seemed even sicker than I and she spent most of her time sleeping and throwing up.  I don't know what caused me to feel this way, but I think it was a combination of the constant movement, sea water and salt getting into my mouth from the high waves, and not eating a full lunch and drinking as much as I should.

At about 3:15 we begin to head back to Cairns. I think the waves on the way back were even higher than on the way there, and I would estimate the waves at times to be at least 10 feet high. Thankfully we pulled into port on time with no issues and said a warm goodbye to the crew.

In summary, we enjoyed our trip with Seastar. I would recommend that if you do want to go to the Reef that you check the marine forecast ahead of time, and if the waves are supposed to be high I would consider going with some of the bigger boats. Itís also worth noting that people in general recommend staying in Carins for 2-3 days so that you can wait for a good weather day, however there is not much else to do in the Cairns area besides for the rainforest nearby which is expensive. ( Iíll cover that more in a later report) One downside to Seastar is that they only go to 2 sites, and only one of the sites is a good site for snorkeling (Hastings Reef). Other boats go to 3 sites and may have better snorkeling places.
« Last Edit: May 29, 2015, 02:21:35 PM by ZCN »

Offline moish

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however there is not much else to do in the Cairns area
i thought there was plenty to do with Kuranda, Green Island, Daintree Rainforest, Cape Tribulation, Daintree Rainforest, the Low Isles as well as saltwater croc viewings all not too far away