Going Up Down Under

planning a two-week trip to Australia[trip style = luxe, beach, sun, urban, sightseeing, glamping, cruise]

Australia is... - a country I've never tasted or experienced - a place I'm going April 19 - a destination I know I'll love and am already conspiring to return - the trip I've been dying to take for years - #2 on my bucket list

As I prepare to fly 15.5 hours from Vancouver to the land of Oz, I've been a busy bee trip styling like a mad woman in preparation for my trip. The irony is, I'll be going up while Down Under---or making my way North in a land that sits down and under the equator.

Having put so much work into planning this trip, I wanted to share some tips and opportunities you may want to explore when you decide to throw a few shrimps on the barbie in Australia.

Getting There From Vancouver, Air Canada is the only airline to fly direct, with Air New Zealand code-sharing the same flight. One- or multi-segment flights, usually connecting through San Francisco or LA, cost about $300 less. I checked prices out of Seattle to see if there was a significant savings, but there wasn't, so YVR is your best bet. Flights from Vancouver to Sydney cost $700 - $2500, with a realistic range between $1000 - $1600.

Choosing What To Do When you only have a short time on the ground---in my case 2 weeks, which I think is pretty typical for a cross-ocean visitor---it's best to choose your trip style first, and where you want to go, second. Australia looks small on a map, but to put it in perspective, a flight from Sydney to Cairns is like flying from Vancouver to Regina, or Vancouver to San Diego. With this in mind, trying to do too much on the ground can feel un-vacation-like, so we've opted to immerse ourselves in part of the East Coast: Sydney - Whitsundays - Great Barrier Reef - Hamilton Island - Sydney. Though I feel like I'm not even scratching the surface, I look forward to returning many times over to do the rest of Oz.

My Itinerary {& Tips} We've decided to divide our trip into 3 major parts.

Sydney {trip style = urban + sightseeing + luxe} STAY We decided on the Sofitel Sydney but I would not recommend it based on my experience. Here are some other hotels for your consideration: - The Establishment {luxe boutique} - The Taj Blue Hotel {waterfront} - Shangri-la {harbour views + free wifi, I also stayed here, highly recommended} - Park Hyatt Sydney {undertaking biggest reno in its history, re-opening November 2011} - The Westin Sydney - The Blues Point Hotel {budget hotel option just outside the city, with a bar featured in design blogs serving $3 champaign on Friday nights} *Note that most upscale 4- and 5-stars in Sydney range from $175-500/night.

HOW TO BOOK The best resources we found for booking Sydney hotels are: - booking.com - lastminute.com.au - hotels direct

Island Time in the Great Barrier Reef {trip style = luxe + glamping} STAY We decided to stay at: - Heron Island {family-friendly, all-inclusive located on one of the world's best dive sites} - Wilson Island {close to Heron, a tiny "shipwrecked in style" island with only 6 tents} - qualia {ultra-luxe retreat on Hamilton island} Other luxe options: Lizard Island, Hayman Island*, Bedarra* & full list of GBR islands + prices ranges here... *Resorts re-opening in summer due to damange from cyclone yasi **Note, staying on islands in the Whitsundays or near the Great Barrier Reef can be expensive. Budget $150-$2000/night. For budget conscious options, companies like Virgin Blue offer great flight and stay packages near Airlie Beach from $600 for three nights.

HOW TO BOOK - Resorts direct

Cruising the Whitsundays [trip style = cruise] BOAT There are hundreds of ships sailing in the blue-sequened waters surrounding the Whitsunday Islands. Most leave from Airlie Beach and last 1- to 5-nights. Some boats are 30-person tall ships and others are small catamarans. We were looking for a boat catering to an active crowd, with a small number of guest rooms and a deck where we could relax. We found On Ice, a 46ft catamaran with room for 8 guests and 2 crew.

HOW TO BOOK Booking a Whitsunday cruise is really confusing, but here's a good place to start.

[photo by dbearth]