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Thursday, July 14, 2016

Things to do in Fremantle

Alisha McDarris
You know you've found Esplanade Park when you spot the ferris wheel.
Just south of Perth in Western Australia is the little seaside town of Fremantle (lovingly referred to as Freo by the locals). It's hip, it's creative, it's crunch granola. And while it's only a 30 minute drive from Perth, there's so much going on in this beloved village that we thought it was deserving of its own post. So slip on your Birkenstocks and tie back your dreads and read about all the free and cheap things to do in Fremantle.

Getting around in Fremantle

Bus: Transperth, the same bus system as in Perth, runs in Freo, too. Buses and trains will get you just about everywhere you need to go and cost as little as $3.00 per ride with each ticket lasting two hours. If you're staying for more than a couple weeks it might be worth it to get a Transperth card and auto-reloading it so you can get 25% off each fare. But the card costs $10, so it's not always worth it for shorter visits.

Free Bus: There are two free buses that run around the heart of Fremantle. They each only go in one direction and run separate routes, but it only takes 10-15 minutes for the entire loop. The buses are called "cats" and the routes are labeled either blue or red. So check the map to see if you want to hop on the red cat or the blue cat. Bus stops and buses will be clearly marked.

Bike Rental: I guess it's not technically a rental if it's free, but there are two places you can score a bicycle for a day for free. Little Creatures, a brewery and restaurant, is one, E-Bikes R Us at the E Shed Markets is the other. Both require the bikes back before sunset, but if you like, you can pick them up in the morning and spend the day exploring.

Free things to do in Fremantle

Take a class at the Walyalup Aboriginal Cultural Center and learn about Australia's Indigenous people.

Walyalup Aboriginal Cultural Center: Multiple times a week this cultural center offers free classes to those interested in learning about the history, language, and culture of the local Aboriginal people. We made wooden tapping sticks when we were there, but there are also documentaries, language classes, and more. It's a great (free) way to learn about Australia's original inhabitants (from Australia's original inhabitants).

Art: There are numerous art galleries scattered around the city displaying everything from Aboriginal to modern art. Grab a map, start walking, and you'll find them all over the historic CBD and down South Fremantle Street.

E Shed Markets: Down by the docks visitors will find the E-shed markets. This is absolutely the place for cheap souvenirs. You'll find cuddly kangaroos, hats, T-shirts, and just about every souvenir you could ever want here (some of a higher quality than others) and for much cheaper.

The Fremantle Markets offer a liite something for everyone, from fresh fruit and veg to baked goods to souvenirs.

Fremantle Markets: On weekends browse the famous Fremantle Markets. It's the place to go for fruit (the persimmons are delightful), snacks (samosas and cupcakes), souvenirs, clothing, handmade items and more. There are even a few vegan food stalls selling wraps and coconut soft serve. There are special events at the markets from time to time, too, so check the web for a schedule.

The partial reconstruction of the Batavia, wrecked off the western coast of Australia in 1629.
Maritime Museum Shipwreck Galleries: While technically free, a donation is appreciated to browse the galleries. There are all kinds of stories and exhibits from the many ships that have been claimed by the Western Australia coast. If you're especially interested in conservation, there's a free behind the scenes conservation tour several times a week where you can tour back rooms and hear all about how the museum preserves their finds.

The Esplanade Youth Plaza in Fremantle is a fun way to goof off on a sunny afternoon.

Esplanade Youth Plaza: If you're out for a bit of fun, the youth plaza in Esplanade Park has not only a skate park, but a parkour course, as well. Do pull-ups on the bars, play on the equipment, bring your sneakers and have a good time, then have a picnic on the grass in the shade of one of the large trees.

The Beach: If you're in town during the summer months (or most of spring or autumn), hit the beach! Western Australia has some of the best and there are several in Fremantle to choose from (Bathers Beach, South Beach, Leighton Beach...). So grab your togs (that's Aussie for swimsuit) and get wet.

Window shop: There are scads of cool shops in Fremantle, many of them locally owned. So even if you're not buying, have a wander around town and down South Terrace and peek into some of the interesting storefronts. You'll find everything from kitschy souvenirs to designer beachwear and everything in between.

The Roundhouse: This 19th Century Prison is an open air building where you can learn about the early history of Freo's prisons, take your picture in the stocks, and every day at 1:00 pm listen to a brief talk about the prison before a canon is fired. It's technically free, but a donation is appreciated.

Creatures Next Door, one of Little Creatures' many venues, offers free music several nights a week in Fremantle.

Live Music: With Fremantle being such a creator's kind of place, there's always live music going on somewhere. House concerts are big if you happen to make friends with a local and get an invite, but a lot of bars in town offer music, especially on the weekends. Creatures Next Door and Clancy's Fish Pub are a few popular spots to choose from.

Fremantle Prison: Admission to the gallery and visitor center part of the prison is free, but tours and such start at $20 AUD per person. In the free bit you'll get to see artifacts and learn a bit of history about the prison and life in early Fremantle.

Fremantle Arts Center: This gallery and event venue located in a historic building (the first purpose-built lunatic asylum in WA) showcases new and contemporary works and is free and open to the public every day. There are also special events, classes, and workshops throughout the year, but those usually cost money. On Sundays in the summer there is also free music on Sundays from 2-4 pm.

Cheap things to do in Fremantle

Rottnest Express, one of the ferry options to Rottnest Island, offers ticket specials on Tuesdays.

The coastline on Rottnest Island is a lovely one by which to cycle.

The curious and adorable quokka run Rottnest Island off the coast of Fremantle.

The quokka, one of Australia's several marsupials, can be found in droves on Rottnest.

Rottnest Island: If you're in Fremantle, Rottnest Island shouldn't be missed, especially if you love a good coastal bike ride and cute and cuddly marsupials. The island is teeming with the adorable quokka and there aren't any cars to speak of, so the only way to get around is by bicycle. You can rent one from the ferry operator or bring you own for a few bucks less. Scuba diving and snorkeling are also great options as there are several shipwrecks right off the coast. Normally the Rottnest Express from Fremantle is $80, but on Tuesdays you can head over for $39. Pack a lunch and save on the cost of food (and don't feed the quokkas). There are also free daily history and quokka walks, just check the schedule when you get there.

The Maritime Museum is one of Freo's newest and most stylish edifices.

Maritime Museum: Learn about Western Australia's maritime history in this crazy looking building on Freo's coast. See permanent exhibits like old ships and maritime machinery as well as special exhibits. Normally admission is $15 ($25 if you also want to see the submarine ovens), but the second tuesday of each month entry is by donation!

Snorkeling and Scuba Diving: I guess if you have your own gear these activities would be free, but if not, you can rent them at a few places in Freo if you want to check out some of the shipwrecks and ocean life right off the coast. A few places to pick up some gear are Dolphin Dive in South Freo and Dive, Ski and Surf Supplies in the E Shed.

Brewery Tours: If you're into hops and grains, there are several breweries in Fremantle that offer daily tours. Prices vary, but $15 is about the starting point and the tours usually include samples. Little Creatures and Monk Brewery are two options in town.

Cheap Eats in Fremantle

Heaven Raw Cafe serves up delicious vegan food and occasionally impromptu live music.

Heaven Raw Cafe: Not just raw food (but all vegan and mostly gluten free food), this place is the shiz. Not only can you get a meal (veggie burgers, spanakopita, lasagne) for under $10, you can have dessert, too and eat it in the beautiful garden. But it gets better: On Mondays and Wednesdays you can score a vegan buffet, which includes dessert, for $10! But every vegan in Freo (and there are plenty) plus all their closest friends turn up for this meal, so get there early and fill your plate!

Fremantle Markets: dozens of food stalls are located inside the marketplace, so wander around and pick your poison. There is everything from cupcakes to tacos to meat on a stick, including tasty veggie samosas for only a couple bucks.

Whip It Good: Located in the Fremantle Markets, Whipped serves dairy free Coconut soft serve. Choose your toppings and enjoy the sugar rush!

In the mood for a bliss ball or raw wrap? Karanaki Raw Food inside the Fremantle Markets has you covered.

Karanaki Raw Food: Also in the Fremantle Markets, you can score a wrap or a tasty raw dessert or chia bowl for under $10.

Run Amuk: This hot dog joint in South Fremantle offers a veggie and gluten free sausage and bunches of traditional and not so traditional toppings. It's a tad pricey with the cheapest dog starting at $9 or so, but when you want a hot dog you want a hot dog. Plus, the staff is super friendly and fun.

Chalky's Espresso Bar: While there's no wrong place to pick up a flat white or long black in Freo, Chalky's has a hip, windowed atmosphere and several wraps and baked goods for vegetarians and omnivores. And if you're lucky (like we were), if you're around at closing time (3 pm), you might score a free salmon wrap that would otherwise get thrown away.

Manna Whole Foods: A health food store and mini cafe in one, this joint is the perfect spot to pick up some snacks or a quick lunch. Great for omnis and vegos alike, they have salad bar type stuff, burgers and more.

Ways to Save in Fremantle

Fremantle Story: A free magazine and a website. The website lists all the things going on in and around Fremantle, including the free ones. The magazine can be found around town and in the info center and lists much of the same plus discounts and coupons for many Fremantle museums and attractions.

Hello Perth: This site offers discounts on popular attractions and calendars of what's going on in the Fremantle/Perth area.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Guide to Perth, Australia

Alisha McDarris
The view of Perth from King's Park can't be beat.

Perth may be one of the most expensive cities in which to live in the entire world, but it's not all bad. There's plenty to do for free or very little in and around the city (including Fremantle, post coming soon!) so don't cross the Western Australia city off your list if traveling around Australia. It may be out of the way, but it has a completely different feel from many other Australian cities and is a great jumping off point for some good day and weekend trips.

Getting Around Perth

Bus: Transperth, the bus system in Perth, is as good as you could expect for a city of its size (comparative to Brisbane, right down to the river running through the middle). Buses, trains and ferries get you just about everywhere you need to go and cost as little as $3.00 per ride with each ticket lasting two hours. If you're staying for more than a couple weeks it might be worth it to get a Transperth card and auto-reload it so you can get 25% off each fare. But the card costs $10, so it's not always worth it for shorter trips. Buses are free within the city center and there is also a dedicated free loop. Pick up a map at the visitor center or download one from the Transperth website.

Free things to do in Perth

WA Museum: Normally this is a great place to go and learn about science and history, but it's closed for major repairs until 2017.

The Art Gallery of Western Australia has a little something for everybody, including, while we were there, some great student art.

Perth Cultural Center: North of the CBD is the Perth Cultural Center where you will find several galleries, including the Art Gallery of Western Australia, with both permanent and changing exhibits. Not all of it will be good (some of the worst "modern" art I've ever seen was in a university gallery in the district, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder), but plenty of it will be interesting. Of course there will be master works and aboriginal art, too.

Markets: Perth is home to several weekend markets in and around the CBD. Some are seasonal, so be sure to check the calendar before you head out. The Fremantle Markets are widely renowned as some of the best, but it's a trek from the CBD if you're taking the train.

The laneways of Perth offer all sorts of interesting diversions.

Wander the Perth CBD: In downtown Perth you'll find all sorts of things to occupy your time. Take you camera and snap some photos next to some street art (kangaroos, wobbly green lines, bronze men doing headstands...), wander the Murray Street Mall and do some shopping, or see if there's any live entertainment on at Elizabeth Quay.

Kings Park: On the free bus route is beautiful Kings Park, a winding park with bike and walking paths and a fantastic view of the Perth skyline. Bring a picnic and relax in the grass for a while or take a walk and enjoy the scenery.

The Beach: Western Australia is known for its pleasant weather and beaches, so hit up a few and relax in the sun. The most popular beaches in Perth are Cottesloe, Scarborough, Trigg and City Beach. Some offer snorkeling, surfing, or picnic facilities, so pick your poison and enjoy the day!

Festivals: There's always some sort of festival going on in Perth, many of which are free. Check the web to see what's on while you're in town and go watch sailboats, take in great art, or smell the roses.

Cheap things to do in Perth

The Rottnest Express offers a cheap option for travel to Rottnest Island on Tuesdays (Telethon Tuesdays).

The adorable quokka can be found all over Rottnest Island.

Quokkas are friendly marsupials who use their adorableness to get a free snack from visitors. But don't feed them! It could make them sick.

Rottnest Island: If you're in Perth, Rottnest Island shouldn't be missed, especially if you love a good coastal bike ride and cute and cuddly marsupials. The island is running over with the adorable quokka and there aren't any cars to speak of, so the only way to get around is by bicycle. You can rent one from the ferry operator or bring you own for a few bucks less. Normally the Rottnest Express from Perth is $100, but on Tuesdays you can head over for $59. The ferry is also significantly cheaper from Fremantle (like $20 cheaper), so it might be worth it to take the train to Freo then hop on there. Pack a lunch and save on the cost of food (and don't feed the quokkas). There are also free daily history and quokka walks, just check the schedule when you get there.

I have nothing against North American possums, but Aussie possums are super cute and fluffy. Visit one at Caversham Wildlife Park.

Get up close and personal with a (sleepy?) wombat at Caversham Wildlife Park.

Feed the roos at Caversham.

Caversham Wildlife Park: See Australian animals up close and personal at this wildlife park in Perth. Pet a wombat and have your photo taken with a koala. The emphasis is on education here, so cuddle a kangaroo while you learn about cassowaries and see sheep shearing in action as you're educated about flying foxes. Admission is $27 but you can often find a small discount in tourism booklets found at the airport or information center.

Day Trip: If you have a free day, hop in the car and head to some of the rural areas outside the city. Margaret River and Swan Valley are know for their wineries, cuisine, and relaxed atmosphere. Book a room at one of the quiet resorts or guesthouses for the night and make it a weekend trip!

Perth Zoo: This zoo participates in many successful endangered species breeding programs, making it a greta place to see rare animals big and small (including orangutans and echidnas). Take an afternoon and wander the zoo and keep in mind that there are often discounts in tourism brochures, which are all but necessary with a $29 admission price.

Outdoor Cinema: There are scads of places to see a movie under the stars in Perth. Some open air theaters only run during the summer months (December-April), but several go on all year. So see what's playing a head outdoors! Ticket prices vary from venue to venue.

Cheap Eats in Perth

I can't pass up a vegan donut. Grab one at Loving Hut in Perth.

Loving Hut: All vegan all the time, but omnivores won't miss anything. There are pies, salads, curry and desserts (so many desserts!), many for under $10 per person. It's also a little vegan grocery, so stock up on your snacks that are hard to find elsewhere (like Primal strips).

Lord of the Fries: Fast food for vegans and vegetarians. It's certainly not healthy, but when you want a burger you want a burger. They have veggie dogs, too, tasty sauces, and tofu nuggets that make a good afternoon snack, all under $10.

Annalakshmi: This is an eat all you wish and pay what you can kind of place. It's vegetarian Indian cuisine and proceeds go to the Annalakshmi Cultural Center. A great option when you're really hungry.

Govinda's: You may recognize the name from some of our other Australia posts, but this is an all you can eat vegetarian Hare Krishna restaurant. The buffet is $12, so it's a great place to go if you haven't eaten all day and just want to stuff five pounds of potatoes and lentils in your face.

Toastface Grillah: For Omnivores and vegetarians (not vegans), this place does some creative toasties (i.e. grilled sandwiches). And sandwiches are only $5-$7, so feast on and save room for dessert!

Ways to Save in Perth

Hello Perth: This website will show you discounts for popular local tours and attractions. We aren't big into that kind of thing, but if you must go up in the bell tower, you might as well score a discount.

Information Center: Grab a couple booklets from the information center or even the airport for lists of attractions and discounts.

TimeOut: Here you can search for events on while you'll be in town, including free ones. You might find all kinds of interesting stuff from glow yoga to live music.

Experience Perth: An event website, you can browse upcoming events and activities in Perth, from arts to festivals to fitness classes, including free ones.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Guide to Darwin, Australia

Alisha McDarris
Sunsets in Darwin rarely disappoint. A popular sunset viewing spot for locals and visitors is Mindil Beach.

Darwin, much like Cairns, isn’t a bustling metropolis like Sydney or even Brisbane and it's one of the most expensive cities in the world in which to live. However, for those who find themselves in the Top End backpacker city, there’s still a few things to keep you occupied, especially where Crocodiles, outdoor adventure, and Aboriginal culture are concerned. So get ready to sweat and start exploring!

Getting around in Darwin

Buses: Bus schedules aren’t spectacular in Darwin, especially if you're staying outside the city, but you can still get where you want to go. Just buy a ticket once you board! They cost $3.00 per trip and can be used for up to three hours. There are tap and ride cards available, but aren't worth it unless you're going to be in town for more than a couple weeks.

Rent a Car: There are plenty of car rental companies in the city, including at the airport. Just check online for specials and coupons before you book to get the best deal. Sometimes tourism booklets have discounts on car rentals, too.

Bicycle: If you're not traveling with your own, you can rent a bicycle in Darwin. The Scooter Shop hires them out for $25 a day or $15 a day if you want it for a whole week. And since Darwin isn't all that big, it's not a bad way to get around and there are some decent bike paths around town and along the coast.

Free Things to do in Darwin

The Waterfront: It’s not safe to swim anywhere in Darwin because of crocodiles, so
to cool off the only free option is the Recreation Lagoon at the Waterfront. It’s still ocean water, just netted off in a bit of an inlet so you can enjoy it. However, depending on the time of year it may not be so refreshing. When we took a dip in April it was nearly the same temperature as the air. It's also free to wander around the precinct and browse the shops and restaurants.

Markets: For Darwin’s size, it has an impressive amount of markets. Some are bigger and better than others, but why not visit them all? The Mindil Beach Sunset Markets are one of the most popular. Just check schedules first as some markets don't operate during much of the rainy season (October-May).

Heritage Walk: This self-guided walk around Darwin is mapped out in many of the tourist booklets you can pick up around the city. It'll give you a feel for the city's layout and you might even learn a thing or two!

Museum and Art Gallery Northern Territory: The Museum, or MAGNT, is free to enter and features art, history and culture displays and usually offers special exhibitions as well.

Watch the sunset in Darwin: Darwinians are proud of their sunsets. So indulge them and head to the beach, Mindil Beach, perhaps, just before sunset and watch the show unfold over the ocean!

Wander the Mall: There are a plethora of interesting shops and restaurants along the outdoor Smith Street Mall in Darwin's CBD. Take a stroll and pop into some of the Aboriginal art galleries to get a feel for the local atmosphere, grab a bite at a café, learn about some of Darwin's history, and check out some artifacts from Darwin's old open air theatre. Or just check your e-mail using the free Wi-Fi.

Litchfield National Park: There’s no admission fee to this park, though you will have to arrange transport out there, be it a car or a tour. It’s about an hour and a half outside of Darwin and has amazing waterfalls and swimming holes where you can while away an entire day. Not to mention gigantic magnetic termite mounds. The Buley Rock Holes are our faves!

The Buley Rock Holes in Litchfield National Park outside of Darwin are a beautiful place to relax and cool off on a hot day.

Waterfalls abound at Litchfield National Park near Darwin.

Magnetic Termite mounds can be spotted all over the Northern Territory, including Litchfield National Park.

Berry Springs Nature Park: If you're going to Litchfield, make a pit stop at Berry Springs, which is about half way from Darwin. It's a pretty little sun-dappled spring that's croc-free so you can take a dip and perfectly clear. You can see all the way to the bottom like you're looking through glass. The water's neither cool and refreshing nor warm and soothing - it's right in the middle - but offers a relaxing way to enjoy the afternoon. Get there early, though, especially on weekends and during the dry season (May-October) as it will be packed and the parking lot is small.

Botanic Gardens: Just outside the city are the botanic gardens perfect for an afternoon of wandering through tropical plants, including Aboriginal plants that were used for medicine and as bush tucker.

Cheap things to do in Darwin

The Darwin Waterfront offers shopping, dining and swimming, including a free lagoon and paid activities like a wave pool.

Fannie Bay Goal: Australia cities wouldn't be complete without their prison museums. This one was Darwin's main prison and now you can entry and browse around for the cost of a donation and learn about prison life back in the day.

Deckchair Cinema: We love outdoor movies! For $16, which is often cheaper than the regular theatre, you can see a new, old, or special screening while lounging on a deck chair under the stars. Check their website for what's coming up.

The Waterfront: While there is a free swimming area on the waterfront, you may opt for something a little more interesting. There’s a wave pool where you can swim and float in a tube for $7 AUD and an inflatable obstacle course nearby for around $15 AUD.

Crocodiles: There are a plethora of croc parks in and around Darwin. Admission is about $35 at Crocodylus Park and $40 at Crocosaurus Cove. You can even swim in a tube with one at Crocosaurus Cove if you have a spare $165 to drop on attractions, but we prefer something a little more natural (and that doesn't sell croc meat or croc skin products in the gift shop). An hour outside of Darwin is the Adelaide River where you can book a boat tour for around $40 AUD where the guides get the crocs to jump out of the water alongside the boat. It’s pretty exhilarating. We recommend the Spectacular Jumping Crocodile Tour, which is run entirely by women!

There are plenty of places to see crocodiles in Darwin, but marveling at them in their natural habitat while on a jumping crocodile cruise is the best.

Island Ferry: Just off the coast of Darwin are a few special islands that local indigenous people still call home. The Tiwi Islands (Bathurst and Melville) are 80 km off the coast and are a great place to learn about indigenous art and culture. It's $52.50 per person for the SeaLink ferry out and back, and there are tours available three times a week for a heftier fee.

Kakadu National Park: Larger and more impressive as a destination than Litchfield is Kakadu, about 3 hours outside of Darwin. However, don't bother unless you have at least three days to devote to the park as attractions are sprawled throughout the expansive boundaries. There are plenty of campsites starting at $15, though if you have a 4WD, bush campsites are $5 per person. However, parks passes are required and are $40 per person.

WWII Oil Storage Tours: Right near the CBD are old tunnels that the Navy built for oil storage during WWII. Now you can wander in the cool darkness and learn about the history of the area and enjoy photos from the past for $8 admission.

Fly to Bali: Because Darwin is so close to Bali, flights can often be found for under $100. If you're going to be in the Northern Territory for a few weeks, make the most of it and plan a weekend trip!

Places to eat in Darwin

You won't find many meals under $10 in Darwin, but if you're clever you might find a few steals.

Simply Foods: For vegans and omnivores alike, this place has a few options for meals, pastries or snacks for around $10. It's located in the Smith Street Mall, so convenient if you're in the CBD for the afternoon.

Eat at Martins: Mostly home cooking style food with an Indian flare, this restaurant is a popular vegetarian spot in town with vegan and gluten free options. There are a few choices under $10, including vegan and gluten free desserts. They also offer take-away if you're headed out for the day.

Greenies Real Food: A small health food supermarket that sells snacks and frozen meals, tofu, fish, etc. in addition to sunscreen, soap, and all kinds of other natural products. They offer bulk , too, so you can buy only as much as you need.

Rawgasm: With vegan and paleo options, this café is another healthy option on Smith Street. There are a few meal options like soup, sushi, sandwiches, even breakfast for under $10.

Markets: At any number of markets in Darwin you can usually pick up a moderately priced meal or snack. No guarantee it's going to be a healthy one, but samosas and fried food abound. Just make sure not to pass up a slice of vegan ganache cake or caramel bars at Petra's Raw Cakes.

Ways to save in Darwin

Check out a few ways to save money in Darwin.

Tourism Books: Pick up a few free tourism booklets and brochures from airports, info centers, etc. They often have discounts and coupons for attractions, car rental, even accommodation.

BookMe: For savings on tours, activities and more, check out this site and keep in mind that the farther ahead you can plan, the better the deals will be.

Off The Leash: Check for free events and special happenings in this free paper that you can pick up around town or on their website. You'll get the scoop on local festivals, music, food and more.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Guide to Uluru

Alisha McDarris
No trip to Australia is complete without paying a visit to iconic Uluru (Ayers Rock).

Way out there in the middle of the Australian Outback is Uluru, the iconic red rock that’s basically the symbol of the whole of Australia’s Red Center. And whe I say it’s out there I mean it’s way out there. Like over 400 km from the nearest town out there. Needless to say, a visit to Ayers Rock, or Uluru as the Aboriginal people have always known it, isn’t cheap. But since it’s practically the USA’s equivalent of New York City for those traveling to the country (if you’re going to be in the country you better have stopped to visit), Uluru is on most people’s travel list. Fortunately, we are here to help you save on your visit and see Uluru on a budget.

Getting to Uluru

If you don’t own your own transport, there are only a few options when it comes to getting to Ayers Rock.

  • Rent a car: You’ll probably want to do an overnight trip since it’s between a 5-6 hour drive from Alice Springs to Uluru (assuming you’re coming from Alice Springs). A two day rental will run you about $120 AUD. But most car rental companies do not offer unlimited kilometers when you book directly with them. Fortunately, booking through the information center in town does, so book through them.
  • Take a tour: Tour companies abound in Alice Springs. You can also take a tour from Adelaide or Darwin, but they’ll obviously be much pricier at around $800 AUD. From Alice Springs a one-day tour (a very long one day) starts around $215. An overnight tour with camping accommodation and a look at Kings Canyon will run you closer to $500.
  • Shuttle: Several companies offer shuttles to and from Yulara (the resort area outside the park) leaving you in charge of lining up transport once you arrive. These shuttles cost $120 one-way and once in Yulara you can book local tours or shuttles out to see the rock starting at $60.
  • Fly: There is an airport near Uluru, but fares are expensive. Qantas is the only airline that flies out there, but they occasionally offer specials from Melbourne or Sydney.
  • Less likely options: If you’re not on a tight schedule and can wait a week or two, you may be able to participate in a rideshare via Gumtree or Coseats to Uluru. We didn’t have much luck with this in May. We couldn’t find a single person who was also looking for travel mates to split the cost of fuel or a rental. However, if you happen to make friends with other travelers while in town, your chances may improve. Another possibility is to score a campervan relocation on Coseats to Adelaide or Perth and make a pit stop on the way (it’s not really on the way, but you know what I mean). You’ll probably have to pay for extra kilometers or an extra day or two for the van, but it’s an option. This is what we did. Just keep in mind that fuel prices in the outback are astronomical!

A campervan relocation may not be the most obvious option to get to Uluru, but it is an option!

Free things to do at Uluru

There are a handful of activities to occupy your time that don’t cost a thing.
  • Lookouts: There are a handful of lookouts in Yulara, the resort area, that offer distant views of the rock and all of them are quick, easy walks. Pick up a map at the information center.
  • Browse: There are several souvenir shops in Yulara, so take your time and have a look. There’s a Post Shop, too, so you can pick up a few Uluru post cards to send home while you’re there.
  • Daily Ranger Guided Mala Walk: Every day at 8:00 or 10:00 (check with the info center), there’s a two hour guided walk led by the local Aboriginal people and offers info on Aboriginal culture, plants and wildlife, and the significance of the rock.
  • Sunrise and sunset: Provided you’ve already paid for your park entry, watching the sunrise and sunset over Uluru and Kata Tjuta is free. You can watch the colors of Uluru change right before your eyes and enjoy dinner/breakfast/a cold beverage from a camp chair in front of your car. The viewing lots are signposted so you know where to find them. We were far more impressed with sunset than sunrise on Uluru, but Kata Tjuta looked pretty spectacular in the a.m. from afar. Times will be posted in the info center and around the resort.
  • Take a walk: There’s a 10.6 km walking track around the base of Uluru, so lace up your boots and head outside. Start early in the day during summer so you’re not out in the outback’s afternoon sun for too long. We don't recommend doing the Uluru climb, though. The local Indigenous people wish you wouldn't, and as it's their land, we believe you should respect their wishes. There are also walks around Kata Tjuta and you can pick up maps at the info center in Yulara.
  • See the camels: It may cost a pretty penny to ride one, but you can go and say hello, maybe snap a few photos for free at the camel farm outside Yulara.
  • Cultural Center: Inside the National Park is the cultural center where you can wander through and learn about the significance of the park and the traditions of the Anangu people who call the land home.
  • Galleries: There are several places to see Indigenous art and learn a bit about it both inside and outside the park. Check out a full list of them here.
  • Other Free Activities: Other activities are available from time to time and can be found here.

Pull up and watch the sunset at Uluru and document the changing colors of the rock.

Go for a walk around the base of Uluru (not up it) and appreciate it from every angle. 

Cheap things to do in Uluru

  • Enter the park: Getting up close and personal with Uluru requires a pass into Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. And it’s not cheap. The cheapest pass available is for 3 days (72 hours) and costs $25 per person. The only way to save, and it may be a dubious one, is to find travelers who have just left the park and buy their passes if they didn’t stay the whole three days or resell yours if you didn’t. The place to do so is Curtin Springs, 80 km east of Uluru.
  • Field of Light: We cannot recommend more highly spending the cash to see this amazing installation. Artist Bruce Munro has crafted a vibrant display inside the park near Uluru using fiber optic cable and 50,000 glass globes to create a field of light in the desert terrain. Watching the bulbs change color and glow in the dark under a starry sky is simply sensational! The cheapest viewing option is $35 per person, with several other more experiential options available. But for the Star Pass you will be picked up at your accommodation, shuttled out and back to the installation, and allowed a bit over an hour to wander through the field of light, taking photos and experiencing the joy of Field of Light. But it’s only on until March 2017, so get moving!

Bruce Munro's Field of Light is a magical experience not to be missed!

The Field of Light installation at Uluru is only up until March 2017, so get out there and feel the wonder.

Where to Stay at Uluru

The resort area of Yulara has the only accommodation anywhere near Uluru and all the hotels and resorts are owned by the same company, so it's all fairly expensive. However, there are cheap accommodation options near Uluru.
  • Camping: This is by far the cheapest option when visiting Uluru. For $36 per night you can get a basic tent camp site at the campground in town.
  • Pioneer Hotel: A hostel style dorm room is the next best option in Yulara, the resort area where all the accommodation is owned and operated by the same company (read: no competition between hotels fighting for your dollars). The cheapest option will run you $38 per person per night.
  • Freedom Camping: Along the only road that leads from the highway to Uluru there are several places to pull off or camp for free. The closest proper camp site is at Curtin Springs, 80 km away from the park. Camping is free, you just have to pay a couple bucks if you want a shower. Closer to the park are a handful of pull-offs that, while less secluded and without toilets or water, still offer a place to sleep for a night. We parked our campervan in a little pull off with a sculpture and an informational sign 5 minutes outside the park. Just make sure to follow Leave no Trace principles.

Cheap Eats

  • Supermarket: There are several cafes and restaurants in Yulara, but if you’re getting anything more than your morning flat white, it’ll cost ya. Your cheapest option for feeding yourself while out there in the middle of nowhere is to shop at the supermarket in Town Square and cook your meals over a camp stove or in a hostel kitchen. There are also bar-b-ques at the campground.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Guide to Cairns

Alisha McDarris
The view from the lookout atop Fitzroy Island off the coast of Cairns.

I’m gonna be straight with you: Cairns (that's pronounced cans for you non-Australians) is far from the most exciting city in Australia unless you're really into nightlife. It’s touristy, there’s not much going on in the way of culture, it's hot and humid... So why bother visiting Cairns? One reason: The Great Barrier Reef. It’s why backpackers and holidaymakers flock to the city in droves. And as the largest reef in the world and a world heritage site, it’s no wonder why. But getting out on the reef can be expensive, so here’s our trusty guide to Cairns on a budget.

Getting Around Cairns

Getting around in Cairns is much more straightforward than in Melbourne or Sydney, so fear not the public transportation system.
  • Bus: The Translink bus system is fair in Cairns, but buses don’t run as frequently as in larger cities, so plan accordingly. You can plan your trip online and even transfer on the same fare for two hours after buying the ticket (which you can do in cash on the bus).
  • Car Rental: Most of the big companies have offices in Cairns, but there’s one additional company that’s extra cheap: Rent-a-Bomb. The catch is that you can only travel within 50 kms of the city with the cheapest option, so it’s not a good option if you’re going very far, say the Daintree.

Free Things to do in Cairns

There are a handful of things to do in Cairns for Free, so take a few days and check them out!
  • Rusty’s Markets: for cheap fruit and vegetables, lunch, and kitschy souvenirs, this is the place to be on Friday through Sunday mornings. Grab some Vietnamese street food, a custard apple, and croc-skin glasses case all in one place! It’s free to browse and you might find a great deal on avocados!
  • Esplanade Market: On Saturdays local vendors and craftsmen set up on the esplanade and you can grab higher quality souvenirs like jewelry, handmade T-shirts, and artwork. 
  • Night Markets: Every night from 5:00-11:00 head downtown across the road from the Esplanade and browse the aisles of stalls selling hats, keychains, kitschy souvenirs, handmade soap, you name it. You can even get a cheap massage or Chinese noodles.
  • The Esplanade: The highlight of this oceanfront boardwalk is the free swimming lagoon located right next to the water. It’s the perfect place to cool down and catch some rays. Take a photo next to the iconic fish fountains and feel the sand in your toes. It’s the only free option for swimming in the city since you can’t swim in the ocean (crocodiles). There are also playgrounds and a skate park if you’re keen.
  • Bars: There are scores of bars in Cairns, most of which are super skeevy (i.e. skanky, pervey, divey), but if you’re going out anyway, you might be able to score a deal if you take a walk around town first. Many bars and clubs will be handing out special offers and drink discounts on the sidewalk and many have weekly ladies nights (we came across one offering 5 glasses of champagne for every lady after 10:30 pm) and competitions for free stuff. Just know that you might have to put up with sexist activities like pole dancing competitions and wet T-shirt contests. 
  • The Botanic Gardens: These free gardens are lovely, though not terribly extensive, the highlight of which is the enclosed tropical garden complete with butterflies that need no encouragement to alight on your hat or shoulder (or camera). There are also a few longer walks starting in the gardens including the Red Arrow.
  • Waterfalls: Outside of Cairns you'll find several places to enjoy waterfalls and take a dip in croc-free waters. Crystal Cascades in one such place, though you can't get there by bus. You can try hitching if you don't have a car as a fair amount of people visit the falls, especially in the summer. Barron Falls located outside of Kuranda is another option, though it's strictly for looking at, not swimming.
  • Kuranda: About 30-40 minutes north of Cairns is Kuranda, a rainforest village based around tourism. There are plenty of expensive things to do here (take the skyrail, go to the Koala Sanctuary...) but there are also free things to do in Kuranda. Check out the markets and do some souvenir shopping, take a turn around the rainforest boardwalk, and visit some art galleries. You can drive yourself if you have a car or use public transport from Cairns for just $6.50 each way.
  • The Beach: To swim in the ocean you'll have to leave Cairns. Palm Cove and Trinity Beach have an underwater fence to protect swimmers from stingers and other deadly ocean-dwellers and a strip of restaurants and shops for when you start feeling peckish. We recommend a scoop or two of vegan gelato at Scoops Gelatiland in Palm Cove. The bus will take you up to either beach and cost under $10 per person.

The Lagoon, located on Cairns' waterfront Esplanade is a great place to relax, catch some rays, and cool down.

Rusty's Markets are a great place to find a deal on fruit and vegetables, not to mention an afternoon snack.

At the Saturday Esplanade Markets you'll find all sorts of art, jewelry and handmade goods.

The Cairns Botanic Gardens are a lovely place to while away and afternoon.

Become a perch for a butterfly at the Cairns Botanic Gardens.

Crystal Cascades is a peaceful swimming hole surrounded by rainforest just outside Cairns.
An appropriately rainy view over the Daintree Rainforest.

Eat on a Budget in Cairns

There are dozens of dining options in Cairns, many of which are expensive, but if you keep your eyes peeled you might find some good deals as you walk around town.
  • Cairns Night Markets: If it's Asian take-out you're in the mood for, You'll find it at the Night Markets. It's food court style, so pick a storefront and point to what you want.
  • Vegan Treats: We can't pass up vegan sweets, if you can't either, check out Pineapple Cafe in the city for raw bites and breakfast and lunch food and Soul Kitchen Bakery a bit outside the CBD for cakes and such. Reasonably priced and yum.

Ways to Save in Cairns

Here’s how to save money in Cairns on land and sea.
  • The Daintree: You can take a tour from Cairns up to the World Heritage listed rainforest, but you will probably score a better deal renting a car for the day and driving up yourself. It’s about a two-hour drive and you can even save on gas and the ferry crossing ($25 per vehicle and you won’t see much of the rainforest if you don’t) if you opt to share the ride with other travelers through sites like Gumtree and CoSeats. On the way you can make a pit stop in Port Douglas, which is still touristy, but much classier with nice cafes and ritzier shops.
  • Great Barrier Reef: It’s expensive to get out to the reef with the cheapest snorkeling day tour starting at $109 AUD with Compass Cruises. However, if you don’t feel the need to visit multiple sites, you can head out to Fitzroy Island (which is lovely and offers great snorkeling) on a ferry with Raging Thunder or Sunlover and spend the day for about $75 AUD and rent snorkel gear for another $16 AUD. Of course, if you have your own or can borrow some, you’ll save even more! Just make sure to pack a lunch so you don’t spend everything you saved on high-priced food. You might also be able to score a deal on if you plan in advance! Other (though less likely) options include couchsurfing or WOOFing with a host who has a boat and might offer to take you out and debasing yourself at various bars in town in embarrassing competitions for free tours. The latter isn’t our style…we’d rather pay.
  • BookMe: For savings on tours, activities and more, check out this site and keep in mind that the farther ahead you can plan, the better the deals will be.

Snorkeling on Fitzroy Island is one of the cheapest ways to see the Great Barrier Reef.

The coral and sea life of the Great Barrier Reef is diverse and splendid.

Take a couple of days and enjoy the tropics, see some World Heritage sites, and have some fun in Cairns!

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