How to Skip the Gate Fee and Get to the Sydney Airport for Cheap!

Chances are, if you are visiting Australia (or even New Zealand really) you will be flying in/out of the Sydney airport. Dan and I flew into and out of Sydney 6 times while we were traveling in Australia and New Zealand. Australia’s biggest city also has the country’s biggest and busiest airport. But what’s the best way to get to and from Sydney’s airport when you are traveling on a budget?

The only options for getting to or from this airport are a taxi (expensive), the train, or the only city bus that goes to the airport, bus #400 from Bondi Junction. The bus is definitely the cheapest option, but it only really works if you are coming from Bondi Junction. If you happen to be staying around there, by all means take the bus, but for everyone else, going all the way out to Bondi Junction to get on a bus for over an hour just seems crazy. Plus there is a better way to save yourself some money while getting to the airport.

In my opinion, the most obvious travel option to the airport is the train. It is definitely fast; only 15 minutes from the center of Sydney. But there is a catch when traveling by train to Sydney’s airport. There is a special gate fee for exiting at both the domestic and international terminal train stations. The story goes that the reason for these fees is because before the 2000 olympics, the government wanted to add an easier way to get to the airport than the bus. They hired a private company to build the airport link – a 4-stop detour on the green line – and the private company decided to charge gate fees on all 4 of it’s stations to recoup their investment. I’m going to assume that the local community complained about their suburban stations costing substantially more than nearby stations, because eventually the extra charges were removed from the suburban stations. But not from the 2 airport train stations!

Additional fees to get to the airport aren’t new. You find them at most major airports. Here in New York City you can get to JFK International Airport on the subway – it will only cost you $2.50 – but to actually get to the terminals you have to pay to take the AirTrain. That will set you back an additional $5. So $7.50 total to get from anywhere in NYC to any terminal at JFK International. The gate fee to exit at Sydney’s airport terminals is $12.60 AUD ($11.42 USD). That’s on top of the $3.80 to $4.60 AUD ($3.44 to $4.17 USD) that the train trip out to that neck of the woods costs. This means that to get off of the train the stop before the domestic terminal costs $3.80 AUD ($3.44 USD) from city center, but to get off at the domestic airport terminal costs $16.40 AUD ($14.86 USD). The international terminal is a bit farther away (Sydney prices their stops by distance), so from city center it will cost you $16.40 to $17.20 AUD ($14.86 to $15.59 USD). And to get to the stop after the international terminal? That only costs $3.80 to $4.60 AUD ($3.44 to $4.17 USD). Dan and I weren’t having that so we thought let’s see if we can circumnavigate the system.

Crossing the bridge to the International Terminal.

Crossing the bridge to the International Terminal.

Turns out, it isn’t really that hard. Both trips are flat and right around a mile from the train station to the terminal. This is the beauty of traveling light. Throughout the trip I kept saying that we have time but not so much money. Well if you are in the same boat, I highly recommend walking!

To get to the Domestic Terminal:

Get off the train at Mascot. This will cost you $3.80 AUD from Sydney CBD. Walk south on Bourke Road. Continue south on O’Riordan Street. The entrance to the domestic terminal will be obvious! This walk is more straight forward than the walk to the international terminal. This is really easy! Totally worth doing if you have an extra 20 minutes and aren’t dragging a big, heavy rolling bag behind you.

Follow that sign!

Follow that sign!

To get to the International Terminal:

This one is a bit more complicated, but there is at least one sign (see above)! Take the train to Wolli Creek. This will cost you $3.80 to $4.60 AUD from Sydney CBD. When you exit, walk down Brodie Spark Drive. At the end of the drive you will see a park along a river’s edge across the street. Cross the street and walk in the park along the river’s edge. Stay along the river’s edge until you have to bear right to make sure you can get on the walkway along the bridge that crosses the river. Cross the river. On the other side you will see the sign in the picture above. Follow the sign and cross under the overpass. Keep to the left for a few minutes until you see the international terminal on your right. This walk includes a park! Totally worth it before a long international flight.

I hope this tutorial will encourage you, brave readers, to consider sticking it to the man and saving yourselves a few bucks before your flight out of Sydney. Travel safely!

Why We Travel: Penguins!

Melbourne was our favorite city in Australia. It doesn’t get as much hype as Sydney, Australia’s largest city, but we loved this artsy, diverse and walkable city. Melbourne has many draws and a big one for us was the beach suburb of St. Kilda. We aren’t really beach people, so there must be something really special about a beach to make us trek out there. St. Kilda has several things going for it – including being a home for penguins! Let’s walk through the day so you can see what makes this hour-long trip on the tram worth it:

St. Kilda beach. Beautiful and (on the day we were there) empty!

St. Kilda beach. Beautiful and (on the day we were there) empty!

The beach is big and beautiful. When we got there in the afternoon the beach was deserted. It was a bit chilly, yes, but it was deserted mostly because it was super windy! We were being whipped by sand, which is even less pleasant than you are imagining. We just a quick walk along the water’s edge then we got the heck away from there!

Luna Park

Luna Park

Melbourne has it’s very own Luna Park! After doing some research, the Luna Parks around the world are not actually related and the name was simply borrowed. This Luna Park originally opened in 1912! Like the Luna Park in Coney Island, it has a wooden roller coaster.

Making funny faces (Dan didn't get the memo) in the crazy mirrors.

Making funny faces (Dan didn’t get the memo) in the crazy mirrors.

We wandered the park for a while, made some silly faces and had some fun. No rides for us as many were actually closed for the afternoon because of the strong winds!

After our Luna Park fun, it was time to head to dinner. Lucky for us vegans, there is at least one excellent option in St. Kilda for dinner: Lentil as Anything. Lentil as Anything is a vegetarian (mostly vegan) not-for-profit restaurant with an awesome concept. It is pay what you wish. The St. Kilda location has been surviving on this concept ever since it opened in 2001. Beautiful! And the food:

Savory vegan pancakes.

Savory vegan pancakes.

Pumpkin curry on the left, dal on the right.

Pumpkin curry on the left, dal on the right.

Beautiful, healthy, homely, and tasty. I love the Lentil as Anything concept and was really happy to support them and enjoy their tasty food. There was a wait, as I assume there almost always is, but it wasn’t too long and we made some friends while waiting!

After dinner it was time for the main event! The reason we traveled an hour by tram from Melbourne’s central business district: Penguins! Little (or Fairy) Penguins, to be precise.

Luna Park and the Palais Theatre at sunset.

Luna Park and the Palais Theatre at sunset.

The penguins don’t come back to dry land until it is getting dark to avoid predators, so we started walking out to the St. Kilda breakwater, where the colony lives, at sunset.

Sunset off of the St. Kilda breakwater.

Sunset off of the St. Kilda breakwater.

Then it was penguin time!

Little (Fairy) Penguin #1.

Little (Fairy) Penguin #1.

At St. Kilda, they smartly built a little walkway for humans that takes you right next to the penguins without allowing you to walk on their breakwater home. This way the penguins are safe to inhabit their home but the humans can get within 4 feet of them! It was amazing how close we were.

Little (Fairy) Penguin #2.

Little (Fairy) Penguin #2.

These cuties are the world’s smallest penguins, only growing to 13 inches high and 3 lbs! They have excellent vision, hence the strict orders to not use flash photography. So, sorry for the slightly dark photos. We were just protecting their eyes!

Little (Fairy) Penguin #3.

Little (Fairy) Penguin #3.

At the St. Kilda breakwater, there is a trained volunteer working there every night, available to answer any questions you have about these adorable penguins. We would have stuck around longer and pestered her with a million questions (and stared at the penguins for hours, obviously), but it was still insanely windy and the waves were crashing over the breakwater and drenching us!

So, if you are ever in Melbourne, we highly recommend taking a little side trip to St. Kilda for a day of beach fun, awesome vegan food, a beautiful sunset, and penguins! Just choose a nicer day than we did!

Why We Travel: Featuring Baby Turtles!

Sometimes it’s hard to even pull yourself away from your desk for lunch. However, when you do have the opportunity to travel, you can truly be blown away by what you see. There was one destination we visited that had more unique and diverse wildlife than any other; The Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

Australia Lady Elliot Island Coral Cay

Lady Elliot Island on the Great Barrier Reef

Lady Elliot Island is situated on the southernmost end of the Great Barrier Reef. It is a small island known as a coral cay built slowly over thousands of years as coral breaks off and collects in shallow water. It is remote and the only human inhabitants come from the small “eco-resort” that hosts about 150 guests at a time. Humans are greatly outnumbered on and around the island by birds, tropical fish, manta rays and endangered turtles.

For this post we will focus on the celebrities of the island: endangered sea turtles. We were fortunate to be on the island during hatching season. Hatchlings usually come out at night. Even during hatching season you still need to be in the right place at the right time before the baby sea turtles race to the water. It was only our second day on the island when we heard shouting coming from the beach. We rushed over and arrived in time to see this little green sea turtle making a break for the ocean.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZUHiOkMgrV0

It’s a rare sight to see a baby sea turtle during broad daylight as they usually wait for the cooler temperatures after the sun sets so they can navigate to the water under cover of darkness to protect themselves from predators. Fortunately, this turtle had no trouble making for the open water with the protection of his 40 or so human guides.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y53dg0oafQ8

When a turtle hatches, it heads for the brightest light, which without electricity would be the moon and the stars reflecting off of the ocean. One reason sea turtles are so threatened is the presence of artificial light. While Lady Elliot Island has relatively few inhabitants at any one time, there is still ample light to distract the turtles. Over the next few nights we saw even more hatchlings come up out of the sand and move immediately toward the brightly lit bar area. It took a team of flashlight-equipped employees and vacationing volunteers (us!) to help navigate the turtles one by one back toward the ocean.

Sea Turtle swimming in ocean

Sea turtle swimming in coral lagoon

The sad reality is that these animals are endangered and there are very few places where you can still see them in their natural environment. They say only one in a thousand sea turtles make it back to its birthplace to nest thirty years after hatching.

We were fortunate to see so many of these elegant creatures. In fact, we got to experience the entire life cycle of the sea turtles. We saw turtles nesting, hatching and swimming free in the lagoon next to the island. Once in a lifetime experiences like this are why we travel. We did everything we could to help guide those turtles to the ocean with the hope that future generations will enjoy the same opportunity we did.

 

All Hail Lord Fry!

Dan and I spent 10 days in Melbourne. That may seem like a long time to spend in Australia’s second biggest city, but it turned out to be such a pleasure. Melbourne is really fun and they have a killer vegan scene. After 3 weeks in New Zealand, cooking 90% of our own food, it was time to indulge. And we fell hard for the least healthy, but incredibly tasty, Lord of the Fries.

Thank you, Lord Fry!

Thank you, Lord Fry!

Lord of the Fries (or LotF for short) is an entirely vegetarian burger and fries fast food joint. Note that I did say vegetarian and not vegan. They can make 99% of all their options vegan, but there are cow-milk cheese and dairy and mayo-based sauces available, and used as the standard. If you don’t already know, here is why you shouldn’t eat dairy and here is why you shouldn’t eat eggs. For the animals! Everything you will see in the post below are vegan versions that we ordered when we went to LotF. Equally delicious, but 100% cruelty free!

This small qualm aside, Lord of the Fries makes amazing burgers and fries. They have 7 locations in Melbourne and one in Sydney. Dan and I ate there 5 times over our 10 day stay in Melbourne (and once more at their only location here in Sydney) as LotF was always conveniently located and obviously tasty. Here are some of the best pictures of  (some of) our eats from Lord of the Fries:

Our first LotF burger - the Parma Burger

Our first LotF burger – the Parma Burger

Parma Burger innards.

Parma Burger innards. They gave us two patties! By mistake I think. Win for us!

The Parma burger is a chick’n patty (their spelling, not mine), soy bacon, napoli sauce, cheese and onions. This was the only time we tried their chicken-style patty and I really liked it! Dan preferred the cow-style patty you will see below. But this burger, overall, was delicious. I don’t know what napoli sauce is, but it sure is tasty!

Nuggets and Rings Munch Box.

Nuggets and Rings Munch Box.

A standard purchase for us after this first time: a “munch box” is filled with LotF’s delicious twice-fried fries, onion rings, and awesome vegan chicken nuggets. It’s hard to tell from this picture, but the box is really big, too. It’s a pretty good value (in addition to being delicious), as food in Australia goes.

And that’s something to mention, too. Prepared food in Australia is expensive. The burgers here (except for the breakfast burgers) all go for about US$7.50 and the munch box for about US$9.25. Australia’s minimum wage is over US$15 an hour, so purchasing goods where a human was involved in the production has to be more expensive. This is great for Australians (and is part of the reason why they can afford to travel so much!), but tough on foreigners. It didn’t bother us too much, as long as we were spending our money on really delicious food!

Then we decided one day to make it to LotF before 11 so we could try the breakfast burgers. Australians call these “brekky buns”, as you can see in the sign below.

Breakfast! Only available in Melbourne.

Breakfast! Only available in the Melbourne locations.

Dan's beloved New York breakfast burger.

Dan’s beloved New York breakfast burger.

Dan got the New York: Hash brown, LotF patty, cheese, onion, mustard, and bbq sauce. And he fell in love. He probably mentions it once a day. Too bad they don’t do breakfast here in Sydney!

The Tibet breakfast tofu-burger.

The Tibet breakfast tofu-burger.

The Tibet is just the vegan version of the Melbourne. I wish they hadn’t renamed it. It would have been cuter if Dan and I had ordered the vegan New York and the vegan Melbourne. Regardless, the Tibet is two tofu eggs, cheese, mayo and mustard. This one is good and very breakfast-y. I’m not really a burger-before-11am kind of person, so this was nice to have instead.

On our last day in Melbourne Dan demanded a return to LotF one last time so he could get his New York breakfast burger again, but he also really wanted to try the Big Mark (can you guess what burger that one is modeled after??). Do they do non-breakfast burgers during breakfast hours? We were going to find out.

Good news! They do! So Dan got both, and kindly shared them with me. For your viewing pleasure, a double Big Mark Burger: 2 LotF patties, cheese, pickles, onions, lettuce, and special sauce.

A Double Big Mark burger. The cruelty free version!

A Double Big Mark burger. The cruelty free version!

This burger was huge and tasty. Seeing as I have never had “the real thing”, I had to ask Dan how it stood up and he was not disappointed. But for Dan, nothing could hold a candle to his favorite, the New York breakfast burger:

The New York a second time.

The New York a second time.

Okay, New York vegan scene, please begin work on a version of this burger so that when we get home Dan can get one, because I imagine he’ll never stop talking about it otherwise! Maybe Terri could add it to their new breakfast menu? You can call it the Dan Special. I think he’d be okay with it!

Anyway, there you have it. Our fav food spot in Melbourne. I won’t hold it against you if you come all the way down to Australia just for Lord of the Fries, but I promise that Melbourne will be able to keep you entertained between meals as well! We really enjoyed it all!

Happy New Year From Australia!

Happy New Year VeganHop readers! Molly and I celebrated the start of 2014 in the beautiful city of Melbourne in Australia. Being 10,000 miles away from home for the new year was a different experience. The particular brand of fireworks we witnessed were also quite different. See the big finale below.

Once you got over the shock of seeing buildings shooting out flame the show was quite beautiful.

The end/beginning of the year is a convenient time to pause and reflect. For me, 2013 was a year I will always remember fondly. I married Molly (my partner of over six years), left for an adventure around the world and began writing my first book.  My family and friends supported and encouraged me every step of the way. What could be better?

What made 2013 so beautiful was that I pushed myself to take calculated risks and focus on my core values. I am very cautious in many aspects of my life and I decided that it was the right time to take a leap and live my dream of seeing the world. One year, 14 countries, and 70+ gigabytes of photos later I still can’t believe have far I have come (literally and figuratively). I only had one chance to live 2013 and I genuinely feel I made the most of it.

I have already sat down and made a 2014 ‘to do’ list of the tasks I hope to complete by this time next year. My family and friends are near and dear to me and I want to spend the next 12 months making the most of my time with them.

Always remember that every day is an opportunity and you are the only person who can make the most of it. I try to remind myself of this fact every day and am thankful that I have such a supportive partner who reminds me when I forget. I hope 2014 will bring more unique and memorable experiences – and blog posts!

What are your goals for 2014?

Dan with Kangaroo, Australia

Dan with a sleepy Kangaroo at the Great Ocean Road Wildlife Sanctuary