Angela and I recently returned from a whirlwind tour of the east coast of Australia. We visited Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne, meeting up with friends, drinking delicious coffee, eating good food, and walking through a few different gardens and parks in each city. As this was our second trip to Australia, and our second trip to these cities in particular, this journey felt like a true vacation rather than a frantic mad dash to see everything we wanted to see.
We’ve been excited to return to the country since the moment we departed Australia on our first trip down under. As such, when I saw upper class availability open up on the Qantas routes to and from Los Angeles for late spring in the southern hemisphere, I hurried to book the seats.
Qantas availability to North America is rare so I didn’t have a lot of choices in terms of available flights. That decided our arrival and departure airports and dates. From there, it was a matter of filling the space in between. We knew we wanted to visit friends in Brisbane and Melbourne, and we knew that we didn’t need to spend that much time in Sydney based on our specific priorities for this trip.
While direct flights from North America to Australia are quite difficult to book, domestic Australian flight award availability is fairly wide open in advance so we were able to choose exactly the flights that we wanted.
- Angela and Nicholas
- 10,100 JetBlue TrueBlue Points + 5.60USD per person
- LAS-LAX on B6 Y (Blue Extra)
- 120,000 Cathay Pacific AsiaMiles + 203.38USD per person
- LAX-SYD on QF F
- 12,500 British Airways Avios + 32.80USD per person
- SYD-BNE on QF J
- 55,000 Alaska Mileage Plan Miles + 156.07USD per person (including 20.20USD upgrade from Y to F for the final flight)
- BNE-MEL on QF J
- MEL-LAX on QF J
- LAX-LAS on AS J
- 10,100 JetBlue TrueBlue Points + 5.60USD per person
I needed to use several American Express Platinum Card Fine Hotels & Resorts credits before they expired. Given they greatly discount the cost of a stay, in addition to the USD being quite strong against the AUD, I decided to splurge a bit and booked a couple of incredible properties.
- One room for two nights at the Four Seasons Sydney for 196.82USD per night, inclusive of taxes and after credits, through the American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts program
- One room for three nights at the Hyatt Regency Brisbane for 15,000 World of Hyatt points per night
- One room for three nights at the Park Hyatt Melbourne for 67.02USD per night, inclusive of taxes and after credits, through the American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts program
- 46.30AUD per person for two people for tickets to Taronga Zoo Sydney
- 245.95USD per person for two people for tickets to Attila at the Sydney Opera House
- 129.00AUD per person for two people for tickets to the Story Bridge Adventure Climb
- 20.00AUD per person for two people for Australian ETAs and immigration processing fees
- 32.00AUD per person for two people for round-trip tickets on the Melbourne SkyBus
Monday, October 31, 2022
We followed our normal routine on our day of departure, waking up and having coffee before taking Fitz for a short walk and driving him to his boarding facility. When we returned home, we packed our bags up before exercising to ensure we’d be able to easily fall asleep on the long flight.
Our flight from LAS to LAX departed at 1739 so we arrived at the airport around 1515 to ensure we’d have enough time to grab a quick bite before starting our trip. Luckily, our gate was directly across from the American Express Centurion Lounge so we were able to enjoy a relaxed mid-afternoon meal while our flight suffered two minor delays.
The short flight in economy to LAX wasn’t noteworthy in any way other than Angela saying “I don’t think my butt is made for these new economy seats.” I guess I’m just lucky I’ve got a little more padding as I was fairly comfortable.
Once we arrived in Los Angeles, we walked through the airside underground tunnels to the Tom Bradley International Terminal where we stopped at the Qantas First Class Lounge to rest and relax until boarding time. We ate our second major meal of the day in the lounge’s dedicated dining area. I enjoyed a braised duck salad and beef burger while Angela opted for the salt and pepper squid followed by seabass and a small herb salad.
After dinner, I ordered two strong flat whites in an attempt to make sure I didn’t fall asleep before our flight was set to board given it was considerably later than our normal bedtime. We relaxed for two and a half hours before walking a loop around the terminal to stretch our legs prior to boarding. Our flight boarded on time, but departure was ultimately delayed by a late-arriving passenger and some paperwork issues.
The flight to Sydney was operated by an Airbus 380-800 retrofitted with new first-class seats. While the overall layout remained the same from our last journey to Australia, the hard product was in much better condition on this flight.
Because we obviously hadn’t eaten enough yet, we opted to partake of dinner service after takeoff. One of the best things about Qantas First Class is that you can dine with your partner during travel. I joined Angela in her seat given that someone had damaged the in-flight entertainment monitor at mine to the point where it was impossible to move into a position that would have allowed someone to sit with me.
The meal was delicious. To start, Angela chose the Moroccan carrot soup while I enjoyed the tuna crudo. We both chose the seabass filet for our main course. For dessert, I devoured a very tasty chocolate mousse cake while Angela struggled to enjoy a cup of mango sorbet that was frozen solid.
Our beds were made after we finished our meal and we both went to sleep around 0145 Pacific time. The mattress pad was thick and comfortable. The seat itself is huge with a ton of space to move around and get comfortable in a variety of sleeping positions. I was able to sleep well during the flight, resting about seven hours while waking intermittently due to some pronounced turbulence. I spent much of my waking time during the flight finishing off The Prize, an exceptional narrative history of the oil industry.
When the flight attendant noticed I was awake and had packed away my mattress pad, she dutifully plied me with delicious espresso until Angela and I dined together for breakfast. I chose the poached eggs and Bircher muesli while Angela opted for the scrambled eggs and muesli with milk. We also had a couple of cold-pressed juices and some drinking chocolate. Again, everything was quite delicious.
Wednesday, November 2
We arrived in Sydney about thirty minutes later than originally scheduled and quickly cleared immigration and customs. After that, we walked to the train that would take us directly to the heart of Sydney. Since we last visited, the city’s public transit system has changed to completely support contactless payments, eschewing the need for a distinct transit card. This is an ongoing trend worldwide and something I’ve experienced (and loved) in New York City, Chicago, and London recently. I was happy to see Sydney adopt the practice.
After disembarking at Circular Quay, we walked about five minutes to the well-located Four Seasons Sydney and checked in. Fortunately, our room was available, and we were able to drop our bags off and lightly freshen up before heading out. I was quite pleased with our room as it was spacious and comfortable. The fit and finish of the hotel is excellent.
We returned to Circular Quay and boarded the ferry to Taronga Zoo where we spent the remainder of the afternoon with our friends. Angela and I were particularly excited to visit the zoo after watching three seasons of Secrets of the Zoo: Down Under on Disney+. We recommend it if you’re looking for a family-friendly and enjoyable production.
Unfortunately, the lions engineered a great escape the morning of our visit and were not on display because of it. Still, the wide range of wildlife and the excellent condition of exhibits made for an extremely enjoyable visit.
When it was time to depart, we returned to the ferry and said our goodbyes to Taronga Zoo.
Once we returned to Circular Quay, the four of us decided to grab a quick bite at Chat Thai in the nearby food hall.
The meal was decent, but certainly not exceptional, and we wouldn’t go out of our way to visit again. After dinner, we wished our friends an enjoyable stay in Australia and headed back to our hotel. We were still a bit hungry and, given we had a credit to use because we booked through the Fine Hotels & Resorts program, we each ordered a Caesar salad and scoop of ice cream to round out the evening. Everything was quite good, and we were able to go to sleep sated.
We woke up from a delightful night’s sleep and took breakfast at the on-site restaurant. The dishes were varied and uniformly delicious and service was excellent during both breakfasts we enjoyed at the Four Seasons Sydney.
After breakfast, we took the ferry from Circular Quay to Manly and walked counterclockwise around the area. We stopped at the following locations:
- Little Manly Beach
- Collins Beach
- Sydney Harbour National Park
- North Head Sanctuary (including Hanging Swamp)
- Shelly Beach
- Manly Beach
While we walked through Sydney Harbour National Park, Angela spotted an echidna that was clearly sick or injured. We were unsure what to do at first, but then Angela realized we were fairly close to a visitor center. While she stayed with the animal, I made my way to a small building occupied by volunteer staff and informed them of what we had found. A friendly gentleman called a ranger who arrived about ten minutes later. I escorted the ranger back to Angela where he picked up the echidna to bring him to a wildlife rescue team for treatment. We hope the little one makes a full recovery from whatever ails it.
Other than the echidna rescue, we took tons of pictures as we walked around the beautiful landscape.
Eventually, we returned to Manly Wharf, stopping at Three Beans Coffee, a local chain, for some surprisingly tasty drinks.
We took the ferry back to the city and ate at Ribs & Burgers The Rocks. Ribs & Burgers is an Australian fast food chain that is decent, but not exceptional. It was a quick and easy meal, but not one that I’d specifically recommend.
Returning to the hotel, we put on the fanciest clothes we packed before walking to the Sydney Opera House to see Attila. The production was fantastic and I enjoyed it much more than the previous opera we attended in New York City. To our surprise, there were live horses brought on stage as part of the show!
We returned to our room after the production. Feeling a bit peckish, we availed ourselves of room service again, ordering another couple of Caesar salads.
After breakfast, we walked around The Royal Botanic Garden Sydney. While it was raining at first, it was still a pleasant time and the precipitation eventually tapered off. Our favorite part of the garden was The Fernery, a hidden gem in the midst of the park. Here, we learned there are a number of different ferns named after Lady Gaga.
Returning to the hotel after our walk, we decided to hit the gym before flying to Brisbane. The gym at the Four Seasons Sydney was decently equipped but not exceptional. After our workout, we packed up and departed for the airport, returning via the transit station at Circular Quay.
Flying business class domestically within Australia gave us access to the Qantas Business Lounge. These lounges are a delight, with barista prepared coffee and a great view of the tarmac.
Before long, we boarded our short, but pleasant, flight to Brisbane. I enjoy the fact that domestic business class on Qantas consists of large recliners rather than the blocked middle-seat common in Europe. While waiting for our flight, I purchased tickets for the Airtrain that would take us from Brisbane Airport to the city center.
When we arrived in Brisbane, the Airtrain was non-operational. With a lack of other options, we decided to take a taxi into the city. This was a bit of a hassle given we arrived at rush hour on a Friday afternoon. Once we made it to the hotel, I confirmed that our booking was made through the World of Hyatt Guest of Honor program and we were given access to our room along with, at my request, a couple of sushi restaurant recommendations.
We set off for the top recommended restaurant, Wagaya. The restaurant was interesting, with all ordering done via a touchscreen at the booth, but we were a little skeptical of the offerings after an initial glance at the menu. As such, we decided to order a single course of tuna and salmon sashimi to test the waters. I was glad we did because, while not bad, it certainly wasn’t something we planned to make a meal out of. After our single course, we decided to move on to a different restaurant.
We visited Gung Ho! Dumpling based on recent reviews. This was a great decision as every dish we ordered was flavorful and fresh.
After dinner, we returned to the hotel and enjoyed the small, but comfortable, room in the center of the city.
At breakfast, we were given an unpleasant surprise. The previously mentioned Guest of Honor benefits would not be honored. After talking to three different staff members, including the manager on duty, we were told it was out of the hotel’s hands and, while they would waive the breakfast charge for one day, we needed to contact the person who originally made the booking to resolve the matter. While I reached out to my friend and he reached out to his concierge (who confirmed that the reservation was correctly flagged), it sullied an otherwise unremarkable stay.
Regardless, the provided breakfast was subpar. After a few hard-boiled eggs and a substandard pastry, we grabbed some coffee on the way to our morning activity, stopping at Bear Bones Coffee for a delicious pair of flat whites.
Now properly caffeinated, we made our way to the Story Bridge Adventure Climb office. We checked in, suited up, and headed out onto the bridge. We were given a tour of the structure, some historical context, and excellent views of the city. While it started raining on our way to the office, we were delighted to have clear skies while we were up on the bridge. While the climb was fun, the views are certainly not as picturesque as those we saw from the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I would recommend it to others looking for a fun experience in Brisbane.
For a post-climb snack, we stopped at Christian Jacques Artisan Bakery for an apricot pastry. It was fantastic, featuring a superb custard alongside the sweet fruit. The shop caught our eye because of the huge line we saw outside as we walked up to the bridge.
We next stopped at Salt Coffee Roasters for the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had. It was smooth and delicious with no bitterness or sharpness. If you’re in Brisbane and like coffee like we do, please make it a point to stop here.
On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at Greenstreat for an early afternoon snack. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy about ordering a salad.
After walking to the Riverside ferry terminal, we discovered you cannot purchase tickets on-site as there is no kiosk. We spent the next twenty minutes quickly walking between two 7-Eleven stores and Central Station in order to procure a Go transit card that would allow us to pay for our ferry ride. We took the ferry to our friend’s house and enjoyed a delightful dinner, wonderful company, and a very cheeky dachshund.
Returning to the central business district, we passed under the Story Bridge while it was lit up like a rainbow. It was a wonderful sight to end the day with.
We ate a fantastic breakfast at King Arthur Cafe. I chose the avocado toast with beets, Angela ate a breakfast burrito with chicken, and we split pecan banana bread topped with espresso mascarpone cream. We wholeheartedly recommend this spot for a delightful breakfast. The coffee was five-star, as well, falling just behind Salt Coffee Roasters, in my mind.
Speaking of Salt Coffee Roasters, it was close to our breakfast spot so we stopped, again, for a pair of amazing flat whites. We walked back to the hotel, stopping at Warhammer Brisbane where I picked up two books (Chthonia’s Reckoning and Nightbringer) to read on the way home from Australia.
Afterwards, we hopped on a bus that took us to the Brisbane Botanic Gardens Mt Coot-tha where we spent most of the mid-day.
Once we had walked the entirety of the park, we took a bus to the Roma Street Parkland and spent the remainder of the afternoon taking in the sights there.
Feeling famished, we decided to head to Opa Bar & Mezze for an early dinner. We ordered a variety of plates to share. The dishes were uniformly good and, while we enjoyed the location and the service, we wouldn’t specifically recommend the restaurant as a must-visit.
Returning from dinner, we fell asleep exhausted at 2000 in preparation for an early morning the next day.
We woke up very early, checked out, and took an Uber to the airport. We arrived around 0500, two hours before our flight was set to depart, and I’m glad we didn’t dally during the morning as the security lines were absolutely packed. We eventually made it into the lounge to relax and eat a light breakfast before boarding our flight to Melbourne.
Once we arrived, we purchased tickets for the Melbourne SkyBus, opting for round-trip tickets to take advantage of the discount. The SkyBus is an express service to Southern Cross Station and, once we arrived there, we took the tram (free in the central business district) to the stop closest to our hotel.
Check-in was smooth and the agent we worked with was very friendly as she explained the benefits of booking through American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts. Our room wasn’t ready yet, so we decided to take a walk around the gardens near our hotel before going to eat at Yarra Botanica, a delightful little eatery on the not-so-scenic Yarra River. We ordered the pork and kangaroo sausage rolls, a pear and prosciutto pizza, and a couple of spritzes.
After lunch, we returned to the hotel as I’d received a text that our room was ready. I liked the layout of the room and enjoyed the view out over the city. I loved the location of the Park Hyatt Melbourne as it is separated from the main part of Melbourne’s central business district by a park and the Victoria Parliament, but isn’t so far away that you can’t immediately access the city via foot or tram.
Soon after getting access to our room, we were able to hang out with two very kind gentlemen for the bulk of the afternoon. They sat in their pram while we talked to their owner, Amanda, and enjoyed a few sweets from Brunetti. We highly recommend the pastries! I must say that Henry really enjoyed Angela’s pets.
We ordered room service later that night, choosing a grilled chicken Caesar salad and bread with tahini dip. The chicken in the salad was incredibly flavorful while the dip was only decent. The salad wasn’t quite as good as that at the Four Seasons Sydney.
Breakfast was tasty, with a good variety of dishes including made-to-order eggs and a variety of pastries. The restaurant is multi-tiered and certainly makes you with an impression the first time you walk in. The coffee was decent, but not spectacular.
We made our way to the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria and walked every pathway. The space was beautiful and accessible, right in the middle of the city.
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at two additional coffee shops, Fiord, where we enjoyed a delicious cardamom bun and pair of five-star coffees, and Patricia Coffee Brewers, another four-star spot. We also stopped at Hill of Content Bookshop so Angela could purchase a book by an Australian author that isn’t currently available for sale in the United States.
At the hotel, I decided to go to the gym and was pleasantly surprised to see a full rack and barbell set.
For dinner, we opted to use our Fine Hotels & Resorts property credit to eat at Radii, the on-site restaurant. We started with a delicious steak tartare, maybe one of the best I’ve ever had. Angela chose grilled snapper and parmesan fries while I opted for the steak and salad special. We were given complimentary marshmallows with a chocolate accompaniment for dessert.
Back in our room, we chose to mix up the drinking chocolate we were provided in our room before swiftly falling asleep.
After another tasty breakfast, we set out into the city once again. We stopped at a five-star coffee spot, Traveler Coffee, before walking to the Melbourne Convention And Exhibition Centre to meet with Louise and her little pink princess.
After sitting in the park for a while, watching a couple take wedding photos, we walked back to the hotel to work out and enjoy the indoor spa facilities.
For dinner, we chose Metro Burgers, a repeat from our previous visit to Melbourne. We both ordered the Milk Bar Burger and I chose to get an extra patty. We also shared sweet potato fries and each ordered a milkshake. Just like three years ago, the burgers were sublime.
When we returned to the hotel, Mr. Walker, the property’s canine ambassador enjoyed some pets from Angela.
We packed up in preparation for our departure the following day and enjoyed our final night in Australia.
After breakfast, we reversed our route to the airport by taking the tram to Southern Cross Station before hopping on the SkyBus direct to the international terminal. We checked in and made our way through screening and border security before spending an hour at the Qantas Business Lounge. It was a nice place to spend some time before our flight with barista made coffee and some light bites.
We took a tour of the terminal before our flight to stretch our legs and boarded about half an hour after the scheduled time.
On the return to the United States we flew a Boeing 787-900 with comfortable seats and tons of storage space.
The meal served after takeoff was good, but nowhere near the quality of Qantas First Class. The coffee on the flight was of poor quality, but the service was very friendly and attentive. After reading for a while, I was able to get some rest. Unfortunately, that rest was consistently disturbed by a couple in the business class cabin dry coughing for three-quarters of the flight.
Before landing, we were served a tasty light breakfast before the cabin was buttoned up. While we were all deplaning, a woman berated the aforementioned coughing couple for not wearing masks, informing them just how inconsiderate they were. I’d like to think that most of the passengers agreed with her.
Thanks to Global Entry, we spent a total of fifteen seconds in the immigration queue before proceeding to Terminal 6 and obtaining boarding passes for our Alaska flight home. We were flying on an Embraer 175 so we decided to check our bags and were given the option to upgrade to domestic first class for 20.20USD per person, which we gladly accepted.
We spent a couple of hours in the American Airlines Flagship Lounge, a pleasant place to enjoy the layover, before boarding our flight home. Once in Las Vegas, we picked Fitz up from boarding and finished our vacation.
Australia was wonderful during this time of year. We definitely recommend visiting in the late spring rather than the late winter (as we did the first time). Sydney and Melbourne are top-tier cities and Brisbane surprised us with the quality of the coffee on this visit. We also appreciated the beauty of the landscape surrounding Brisbane and would revisit for that reason alone. We look forward to our return next year when we plan to venture to Western Australia for the first time.