Australia, January 2024

Angela and I recently returned from a trip to Australia. Unlike our previous journeys to the country, we spent the majority of our time outside of the large cities, opting to enjoy the beautiful Blue Mountains near Sydney before driving north to Brisbane, stopping in a few coastal towns on the way.

The impetus for this journey was a dump of award availability on American Airlines for trips from Las Vegas to various cities in Australia. Loathe to pass up a good deal, I booked outbound flights and decided to leave our return journey as an exercise for later.

After some consideration, I decided to fly Angela directly to Greece from Australia for a climbing trip that she was planning with some of our friends. Luckily, there was convenient award availability that made the journey fairly straightforwar. While Angela headed to Europe, I flew back to the United States.


While we offset our flight costs by using airline miles and travel credits, this was not a cheap trip. I used Capital One miles to “erase” the cost of the boutique properties that we stayed at, wiping out almost my entire stash. That being said, sometimes you have to pay to have the experience you want to have, and I don’t regret any of the choices that we made.


The most exciting part of these flight bookings is me finally liquidating the Aegean Airlines miles that Angela and I earned from a paid fare in 2019. I have struggled for years to find a pair of redemptions to polish them off and was happy to finally get them off the books given their limited utility and inability to be topped off.

  • Angela
    • 60,000 American Airlines AAdvantage Miles + 25.90USD per person
      • LAS-LAX on AA J
      • LAX-SYD on AA J
    • 85,000 American Airlines AAdvantage Miles + 101.60USD per person
      • BNE-DOH on QR J
      • DOH-ATH on QR J
    • 65,000 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Miles + 654.65USD per person
      • ATH-LHR on BA J
      • LHR-LAS on BA J
  • Nicholas
    • 60,000 American Airlines AAdvantage Miles + 25.90USD per person
      • LAS-LAX on AA J
      • LAX-SYD on AA J
    • 75,000 Aegean Airlines Miles + Bonus Miles + 73.12EUR per person
      • BNE-SFO on UA J
    • 194.90USD per person
      • SFO-LAS on UA J


Unfortunately, the prices we paid for hotels were somewhat elevated compared to normal given we were traveling up the coast over an Australian holiday weekend.

For this trip, I booked each independent hotel through a travel portal rather than direct because prices were roughly the same and travel portals did not charge a credit card surcharge. In addition, the portal bookings tended to have a more lenient cancellation policy than booking direct.

  • One Premier Room for three nights at The Carrington Hotel for an average of 177.75USD per night
  • One Queen Room for one night at Hotel Nelson for an average of 282.61USD per night
  • One Queen Room for one night at The Beach Rooms for an average of 124.45USD per night
  • One Villa for two nights at Aloha Byron Bay for an average of 246.00USD per night
  • One Wonderful Room for two nights at the W Brisbane for an average of 16.45USD per night, inclusive of credits, booked through American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts


Our rental car cost 39.67AUD per day, but came with large fees due to the one-way nature of our trip and the fact that we picked the car up at an airport. Unfortunately, those two factors tripled the cost of our rental. It wasn’t great, but was simply unavoidable given the type of trip we planned.

  • Eight day one-way rental of a Hybrid Toyota Corrolla Ascent Sport from Thrifty for 1034.37AUD


January 20, 2024

Our outbound flight didn’t depart until the early evening, so we followed our normal morning routine before taking Fitz for a short walk and dropping him off at his boarding facility. We returned home to pack and realized pretty quickly that we’d need to check multiple bags in order to take everything we needed for our time in Australia and Angela’s trip to Greece.

We decided to park at the airport so that I could pick up Fitz on the day I returned. After a brief scare at check-in where the agent kept insisting that Angela was not allowed to board our flight to Australia (an issue that was resolved by rescanning her passport, apparently), we set off for the Centurion Lounge to eat dinner. Surprisingly, the lounge was fairly empty with most of the dining tables vacant.

Our short flight from Las Vegas to Los Angeles was enjoyable. We took advantage of American Airlines’ live television to enjoy the dramatic conclusion of the Packers-49ers game right before landing.

Once we arrived in Los Angeles, we were pleasantly surprised to discover that the gate for our flight to Sydney was right next to the Flagship Lounge in Terminal 4. We enjoyed a few snacks in the lounge before heading to our gate as boarding commenced.

After takeoff, we both eschewed dinner in favor of enjoying an ice cream sundae before putting on our pajamas and bedding down. I was pleasantly surprised by the hard and soft product on American’s 777-300. The seat was comfortable, the provided bedding was much better than expected (with a thick mattress pad, warm blanket, and substantial pillow), and the service was friendly. Angela and I were both able to enjoy a good night’s rest before waking up about four hours before landing.

January 22, 2024

Once we arrived in Australia, we cleared immigration, collected our luggage, and proceeded though biosecurity checks. Entering the arrivals area, we turned to the left and stopped at the Thrifty counter to pick up our rental. After a few minutes of waiting, we were assigned a small car, but not before the rental agent attempted to upsell us to a 35.00AUD per day service to pay for tolls. This was essentially the same cost as the daily rental charge.

We found our car in the nearby parking garage and set out across the city to avoid toll roads. As with all of our rental trips, Angela took care of driving duties.

Our first stop was Aldi. Given the nature of our trip, we wanted to ensure we had enough to eat as we drove up the coast without worrying about getting to restaurants before they closed or paying increased prices in the small coastal towns.

At this point, we were quite hungry. We stopped at a little cafe in a random strip mall called Bean & Gone and each ordered a burger with chips. The burger was great, and the chips were crisp with a nice crunch. Surprisingly, we also got to watch some of the Bills-Chiefs game as it was airing in the cafe at the time.

After getting our fill, we headed to The Carrington Hotel in Katoomba. The hotel has a very rich history, playing host to the upper crust of society through most of its early history. It is centrally located in the small town and was a great base of operations for us during our time in the Blue Mountains.

After getting settled in, we left the hotel to walk to Kiah Lookout. When we reached the trailhead, we walked down to the Bridal Veil Falls Circuit which includes Amphitheatre Track and Fern Bauer Track. We passed the afternoon hiking around the area. Our main stops were the Copeland Lookout, Bridal Veil Lookout, Bridal Veil Falls, and Leura Falls.

We returned to the hotel to get some much-needed rest. While our room lacked air conditioning, this was never an issue. We slept with the windows open and an oscillating fan operating and found the temperature at night to be quite pleasant.

January 23

We woke up before breakfast and, to bide our time, took a self-guided tour of the hotel to check out the historical furnishings and decoration.

At 0730, we entered the dining hall and enjoyed a limited continental breakfast. While not expansive, it provided cereal, coffee, yogurt, fruit, and granola. The weather wasn’t great when we woke up and didn’t get much better by the time we left the hotel.

Our first stop was Scenic World, a well-maintained set of conveyances and paths through some beautiful scenery in the Blue Mountains. Before proceeding inside, we stopped and took a few goofy pictures with the dinosaurs outside.

After checking in and putting on our wristbands, we headed straight for the Scenic Cableway, the steepest aerial cable car in the world. Because we arrived so early, we were the only ones on the ride down into Dinosaur Valley.

We were fortunate that, given some light rain in the morning, we had the rainforest to ourselves for almost forty-five minutes before we saw another person. Taking advantage of this opportunity, we explored the entire area before taking the Scenic Railway to the visitor’s center. At the bottom of the Scenic Railway, we were lucky enough to see the Three Sisters in the distance shrouded in a mood-setting fog.

As the rain had started to break, we returned to the car and exchanged our jackets for sunglasses before taking the Scenic Skyway across the valley. We saw Katoomba Falls shrouded in light clouds from one hundred meters above the forest canopy before disembarking on the other side.

We walked to the Echo Point lookout and gazed out over the cloudy landscape, snapping a few pictures.

We decided to head off-trail to the Blue Mountains Chocolate Company for some chocolates and coffee. The chocolates were tasty and we recommend the Bourbon Vanilla and Blue Mountain varieties.

Once the weather cleared up a bit, we walked back to the Echo Point lookout and took the Three Sisters Walking Track to the top of the Giant Stairway.

We headed down the steep steps and hopped off on the Dardanelles Pass Walking Track in the direction of Scenic World. We half-walked, half-ran the trail to return to the Scenic Railway entrance. While traversing this section, I was bitten by a leech and we found a couple squirming on Angela’s tall hiking socks. For some reason, the leech that bit me slid right off after puncturing the skin.

We briefly stopped when we ran into a pair of women who were distressed after being bitten by leeches. They warned us about the presence of the parasitic worms and were shocked when Angela offered them some bandages.

We entered Scenic World and rode the train up before immediately getting in line to ride it back down. We waited through two circuits so that we could sit in the front car and experience the steep dive through the natural tunnel without any obstructions.

To finish our time at Scenic World, we walked through the rainforest again on the way to the Scenic Cableway, rode it to the top, and took the Scenic Skyway across the valley before walking back to the parking garage along yet another trail, taking pictures along the way.

Our next destination was Wentworth Falls. When we arrived at the trailhead, we stopped for a brief picnic of granola bars and nuts before hopping across the road to the Jamison Lookout. The views were pretty, but nothing special compared to some of the other vistas we’d already appreciated.

We took the Wentworth Falls Lookout Track and stopped at Fletcher’s Lookout on the way to the top of the falls. As we continued walking, we passed a number of people who were enjoying the water before it splashed over the nearby cliff. Heading past them, we started down the Grand Stairway, a part of the National Pass Walking Track, on our way to the base of the falls.

Once we arrived at the bottom, we took the opportunity to take some epic pictures before turning back and climbing the steep stairs back to the top. We would have likely continued further along the trail, but the National Pass Walking Track was closed due to recent weather events washing out parts of it.

By this point, we were both quite tired and we returned to our hotel to rest.

January 24

We woke up about an hour before breakfast started and desperately wanted some good coffee, so we headed out into Katoomba to look for something. We stopped at Tempus for some excellent flat whites. After leisurely sipping our drinks, we headed back to the hotel for breakfast before packing our backpack and heading to Jenolan Caves.

Along the way, we detoured several times to enjoy some outstanding views. Our first stop was Valley View Lookout, followed by a short walk to Evans Lookout.

Afterwards, we drove to Govetts Leap Lookout and walked a short way to enjoy a picturesque waterfall.

At this point, I became concerned with our timing because the instructions stated that we should arrive at the entry to Jenolan Caves an hour before our scheduled tour. Angela had planned more stops, but I didn’t think we’d be able to make it in time since our estimate already had us late. Of course, Angela was right and we probably could have stopped at least once more.

We arrived at Jenolan Caves forty minutes before our tour, confirmed where we were supposed to go, and waited patiently for our tour to start. Biding our time, we saw several lizards hanging out.

There are a variety of guided tour options at Jenolan Caves and we chose the Grand Tour. The Grand Tour includes Orient Cave, the Temple of Baal, and everything in between. The website listed the tour as strenuous but we believe that is a gross exaggeration of the physical effort required.

The caves we passed through were absolutely beautiful and we loved seeing the various structures formed over millions of years. The tour was somewhat mediocre as the other guests were disrespectful to our guide, talking during her presentation, and the guide seemed to have a tough time with the lighting configurations during our tour. We are glad we got to experience the majesty of our surroundings, but would recommend reading up on the history of the caves the night before you visit.

After our tour completed, we made a beeline for the car and headed back to our hotel to rest up for the following day.

January 25

We wouldn’t have time to eat breakfast at the hotel before our scheduled activity for the day, so we returned to Tempus for some coffee and breakfast sandwiches. After ordering, and before our food arrived, I returned to the hotel and loaded our suitcases into our car so that we could check out of our room before heading out for the day.

After grabbing our pack and handing over our room key, we walked through a laneway to the offices of the Blue Mountain Adventure Company. There, we met our guide, Mika, who would be leading our adventure. Angela and I brought our climbing harnesses and shoes, but BMAC provided each of us a personal anchor system, helmet, and chalk bag. For our climb, our guide provided a rope, caribiners, cams, nuts, and slings.

Mika checked our gear to ensure it was safe to use and we piled into a van for a fifteen-minute drive to the trailhead from which we’d be making our approach. Unlike much of the climbing we’ve done in Las Vegas, the approach was long and adventurous on its own, taking us down bolted rebar ladders, along assistive rope lines, and across a short via ferrata.

We eventually reached the bottom of Sweet Dreams, the route we’d be climbing. Mika briefed us on the logistics of the climb, and we talked through the roles we’d each play. Our guide led the route, placing trad-climbing gear where appropriate and attaching to bolts where they were available. I followed Mika with all of our gear, including our hiking shoes, in our backpack. Angela took up the rear, cleaning the route as she climbed.

The route we climbed consisted of four vertical pitches, two on either side of a horizontal traverse.

After a couple of hours of easy and fun climbing, we topped out and hiked to a picnic table where we enjoyed delicious sandwiches and chatted with our guide about the day’s climb and her life’s story. We hopped in the van, returned to the BMAC office, and gathered our belongings. We walked back to The Carrington Hotel’s parking garage and headed towards Nelson Bay.

On the drive out of the Blue Mountains, we were interested in a snack. I directed us to a cake shop that ended up being inside of some type of Asian market. We stuck out like sore thumbs, but at least the coffee was good.

From there, we drove to Nelson Bay where we stopped at Hotel Nelson for the night. Our room was comfortable and spacious with plenty of room to relax and a dining table at which we ate a simple dinner of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

January 26

We woke up early, packed our bags, and loaded up the car. Our attempt to start the day with coffee at the hotel’s cafe failed as it was closed for Australia Day. As such, we drove to Tomaree Head and enjoyed the summit walk. In retrospect, it was a good thing we got started so early because local car parks rapidly filled with people celebrating the holiday.

The hike was quite enjoyable and we worked up a nice sweat. The views from the top were fantastic and we think it is worth a visit for anyone in the area.

We returned to the car and headed in the direction of Hat Head National Park. On our way out of town, we seemed to be the only car heading away from the beach. Craving some coffee, we stopped at Cafe on Main in Bulahdelah for a couple of tasty flat whites. Angela captured this incredibly flattering picture of me while I ordered.

We stopped at the Korogoro Walking Track and enjoyed walking along the cliffs and through some rough terrain. Angela even spotted a kangaroo in the brush!

After finishing our hike, we drove to Nambucca Heads and checked into The Beach Rooms. While the room was small, it contained everything we needed for the night and there was a large common area that everyone could share.

Given we arrived in the early afternoon, we decided to walk along the waterfront to the V-Wall before wandering along Shelly Beach and Bilby Beach. At the end of our journey, we doubled back and retraced our steps to the hotel.

After washing off the copious amounts of sweat from our day of hiking in the heat, we headed to Lom Talay Thai Restaurant for some much-needed nourishment.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at the grocery store to pick up some cookies for dessert.

January 27

I loaded up the car after a quick breakfast and we walked to Cafe Duo to pick up some flat whites and a piece of banana bread for later in the day.

We drove to the Dorrigo Rainforest Centre, arriving at 0900.

Leaving the visitor centre, we walked along the Lyrebird Track to the Wonga Walk. We spent a few hours walking the loop, stopping at Crystal and Tristania Falls for some pictures. For the first half, we were essentially inside a cloud, which was really cool.

From the rainforest, we drove to Dangar Falls. After briefly observing the waterfall from the top, we walked to the lower viewing platform to take a picture.

At this point a woman ran past us on the phone talking about how someone had gone underwater and hadn’t resurfaced. We decided to leave immediately to avoid being in the way of any rescue efforts. As we headed out, we saw an ambulance, several EMTs, and a police officer. We later found out that someone had drowned right after we pulled into the parking area.

After leaving the falls, we drove up and over a mountain on long stretches of unsealed road. Angela handled it like a professional rally driver, even managing to avoid a snake slithering across the road. Luckily, we didn’t encounter any logging trucks, in spite of the copious amounts of signage warning of them.

We finished our drive in Byron Bay and checked into Aloha Byron Bay. Because we arrived after reception was closed, we fetched our keys from the lockbox outside the entry and let ourselves into our villa. I loved our room and really appreciated the communal kitchen stocked with food and the laundry facilities available to all guests.

When we arrived, every fire alarm in the entire complex was sounding. We walked to buy some groceries and, by the time we returned, the problem had been remedied.

After a long day, we decided to prepare dinner and relax for the evening. We checked the weather report and decided to cancel the platypus spotting walk that we had scheduled for the 29th because it was supposed to be thunder-storming and we didn’t feel like getting up at 0445 to trudge through mud in a downpour.

January 28

After waking up, we grabbed a quick breakfast from the communal kitchen, enjoying a couple of bananas, some cereal, and several cups of coffee. Sufficiently fueled up for the day, we drove to the Brunswick Heads Boat Harbour for our snorkeling tour.

We were given a pair of wetsuits, put them on to check for fit, and boarded the morning’s vessel. After a safety briefing, we set off towards Julian Rocks, our snorkeling destination. The ride out was fun as we sped across the waves, bumping and rolling as we went. I was very glad that, unlike our last boating excursion in Australia, nobody got seasick.

Once we reached Julian Rocks, we donned our personal snorkel gear and were each given a pair of flippers before heading into the water. Angela was first in, I followed shortly thereafter, and we enjoyed ninety continuous minutes of swimming around spotting sea life. The highlights of our excursion were:

  • One lion fish
  • One blue-spotted ray
  • One wobbegong shark
  • A dozen leopard sharks in groups of up to four at a time
  • One sea turtle
  • Many different fish species

Our guide did an excellent job spotting the different aquatic species and directing the group. We loved our time in the water.

When our snorkeling session concluded, we headed back to the boat and returned to the harbour.

We drove back to our hotel to freshen up becfore walking to Main Street Burger Bar for lunch. We both ordered the Main Street Beef, although I got an extra patty, and split an order of onion rings. Angela enjoyed the Outback Passion, a cocktail featuring elderflower and passion fruit. We really liked our meal and would recommend the restaurant to those in town.

Following our lunch, we set off on a multi-hour walking tour of Byron Bay and the surrounding area, taking plenty of pictures along the way. First, we walked along Main Beach, Byron Beach, and Clarkes Beach. We continued on the Cape Byron Walking Track, stopping at Wategos Beach, before finding ourselves at the most easterly point of the Australian mainland.

Our outbound journey ended at the Cape Byron Lighthouse from which we could see Tallow Beach.

We returned to our hotel along an alternate route that passed inland. I enjoyed our meanderings around Byron Bay, even if we were both a sweaty mess by the time we were done.

January 29

We woke up without an alarm and were extremely grateful to have canceled our early-morning walking tour. After eating breakfast and packing up, we departed for Brisbane. On the way, we stopped at Black Drop Cafe for a pair of flat whites, some fresh fruit juice, and a piece of gluten free banana bread. The coffees were delicious, the juice was tasty, and the banana bread was definitely gluten-free.

From there, we drove all the way to Brisbane where we stopped at a gas station in the city to fill up our rental before heading to the hotel to check in. Angela parked in the entryway to the W Brisbane and I stayed with the car while she checked in. Our room was quite nice, with a delightful shower and very comfortable bed.

When she returned, we unpacked our luggage and brought it to our room before hopping back in the car and dropping it off a few short blocks away. We were quite hungry so we made our way to Doodee Boran, a local Thai restaurant, where we enjoyed the chicken sweet green curry and beef red curry.

We stopped at Coles to pick up a few snacks for the night, before popping into Machi Machi to grab a milk tea for Angela. As soon as she started drinking it, she proclaimed it the best she’s ever had.

Finally, we stopped at Central Station to pick up a GoLink card to use for the cross-river ferry we’d be taking the following day. We knew we needed this based on our previous visit to Brisbane when we had to scramble to find a way to pay for the ferry.

After a long day of driving and an afternoon in the heat, we decided to relax in the hotel room for the remainder of the night. We both spent the evening reading before ordering room service to utilize the property credit we recieved for booking through the Fine Hotels & Resorts program.

January 30

Our day started with a rainy walk to the Riverside Ferry Terminal where we rode the cross-river ferry to the Holman Street Ferry Terminal.

There, we were greeted by Alison and Noodle, two extremely friendly faces! We walked to Medley Cafe in Kangaroo Point and enjoyed a couple hours of delicious food and delightful conversation. As usual, Noodle was quite cheeky and even tried to slip his way back into the kitchen to check on our orders.

After breakfast, we accompanied Alison and Noodle back to their car before saying goodbye. We wouldn’t have to leave Noodle entirely, though, as Alison was kind enough to gift us a 2024 Noodle calendar which now hangs proudly in our pantry.

We returned to the hotel to take advantage of our included breakfast. Angela enjoyed some fruit while I ordered a coffee. When breakfast finished, we did a little shopping before walking to Central Station and returning our transit cards to receive a refund of the deposit and remaining balance on each.

It was very hot and humid and was raining off and on. With no desire to spend the day in miserable weather, we returned to the hotel to reminisce about our trip and relax in the extremely comfortable surroundings. We ordered room service for dinner again to use up the remainder of our property credit, and both got a good night’s sleep.

January 31

We woke up early because I needed to leave for the airport around 0900 and wanted to eat breakfast beforehand and ensure we had packed everything I needed to take home with me. I enjoyed the full breakfast experience at the hotel with omelettes on-demand alongside typical buffet fare and barista-made coffee.

After breakfast, Angela walked with me to Central Station, assisting me with the second piece of luggage I was carrying. We said our farewells and I hopped on the train to the airport. When I arrived, I checked my luggage with a United agent, headed through immigration and security, and stopped at the Air New Zealand lounge to relax for an hour before walking a couple of loops around the terminal prior to my flight.

We boarded on-time and I settled in for the long journey home. United Airlines’ Polaris product is consistently good, and I was able to get some solid rest on the journey back to San Francisco. Once there, I claimed my checked luggage, cleared immigration, and then rechecked my luggage with an agent. I was surprised by how quickly I was able to get this all done. I was in the American Express Centurion Lounge 35 minutes after landing. I had a cup of coffee and some fruit before heading to my gate.

The short flight to Las Vegas was uneventful. After claiming my bags, I walked to the inter-terminal transport bus which dropped me at the Terminal 3 parking garage. I picked up our car, retrieved Fitz from boarding, and we headed home.

Thus concluded my portion of our first international adventure of 2024. We both loved the way we spent our time in Australia on this trip. Getting out of the major cities and experiencing the rugged beauty of the Blue Mountains and the joyful vibes of the small beach towns was a real treat. We were very active at the beginning but were able to spend a few days just relaxing and enjoying our time together at the end.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.