Tuesday, December 11, 2012

7 useful websites to help you plan your trip to Gold Coast and Sydney

Our 8-day trip to the land Down Under took over 6 months in planning. We bought our tickets at the Matta Fair way back in March for the trip in October. At RM2200/pax for return tickets, that's a pretty good deal if you're travelling with Malaysian Airlines. However, many would consider that quite steep since a return ticket from Kuala Lumpur to Brisbane/Sydney/Melbourne can go as low as RM259 per person with AirAsia! But to each his own.

Frankly, both Mie and I did not regret one bit for splurging on our plane tickets as we truly enjoyed their 'Malaysian Hospitality' with generous luggage allowance (20kg per person), included meals (meals+snacks served 4-5 times, unlimited drinks), ample legroom and their great selection of in-flight movies on our personal screens (at the back of the headrest) made the 8 hours flew by fast.

For this post, I would highlight seven websites I relied on heavily to plan our itinerary for Brisbane/Gold Coast and Sydney. I love that Australia is so accessible online, be it their attractions or public transport schedules. I can't stress enough though how important it is to be patient to score a good deal. That's why it's always good to plan early. The websites, in no particular order of importance:

1. Groupon Australia
I've been subscribing to Groupon Malaysia for more than a year now and have scored a couple of good deals in the past. The way Groupon Australia works is the same as the one in Malaysia, you just need a credit or a debit card to make the payment. No address in Australia is needed. Through this website, I managed to snag a great deal on Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary (CWS). The regular entry price to the sanctuary is AUD$49 per adult but I got 2 tickets for a total of only AUD$45! That's right, AUD$45 for TWO adults! That's a saving of more than 50%. They have many different deals for CWS on and off and the one I bought included Green Challenge Adventure Parc. The deal came on some time in August but I'm pretty sure CWS deals come up pretty regularly as it receives outstanding responses. Do be wary of shady looking deals as Groupon does have its fair share of complaints from customers who never got their goods/deals.

2. TripAdvisor
Questions about/reviews of hotels? Are the places of interest listed in the travel magazines really a must visit? Need help with your itinerary? Is the Moonshadow Cruise in Nelson Bay better than Imagine Cruises? Are there free tours for those on very limited budget (and yes, I found out from here there is one in Sydney actually)? If I had to choose only one website to plan my travels, this would be IT.

The ever friendly and helpful forum members of TripAdvisor would help you. This website saved me from a lot of possible grievances as one of the things I like about it is, it shows 'Traveller Photos' apart from the 'Professional Photos' of hotel rooms. Feeling frustrated that the BigMac your ordered doesn't turn out like in the menu? Same idea. Except you can choose beforehand to cancel your booking at that seemingly too good to be true new hotel based on the as is photos and member reviews. Do use common sense when reading the reviews though, a few negative reviews out of many good ones could just simply mean those people are simply impossible to please!

3. Journey Planner | Translink
This awesome journey planner is available for the whole of Queensland. To be able to use this effectively, you should have some idea of the name of the places you're going to. Not only does it give you the bus or train stations nearest to the places you would like to go to, it also provides the journey time, the schedule (very punctual!) and the cost for each of the journey. Apart from that, it includes the station changes you need to do (if any), and how much walking would be involved. Several options are provided for each journey with difference in schedule, time and distance. For ease of traveling and changing between the different mode of public transports (train to bus or vice versa), you should try to get a GoCard. GoCards give you tickets at discounted prices and can be bought at many places. I bought mine at the International Train Station ticket counter, just 100m in front of Brisbane International Airport. You would just need to swipe the card every time you get on and get off the bus/train. No more rummaging through your purse to look for small change while eyeing every local suspiciously, just in case they attempt to snatch your bag.

In Sydney, you need prepaid tickets for ALL public transportation so don't do as we did: ran after the bus with our heavy backpacks after walking all the way from William St to Oxford St, clambered on the bus breathlessly only to be told to get a ticket first. Individual prepaid tickets can be purchased at any news agent or you could get MyMulti passes for the whole week.

4. Google Maps
Sometimes distance and space look a whole lot different on maps than real roads or buildings. Thus, I used Google Maps concurrently with some of the websites I mentioned in this post to find out the distance and time taken to get from one place to another and most importantly, the landmarks I can see on the way from point A to point B. And how do you know how these landmarks look like? Just use their 'Street View' feature. To use it, just drag the little yellow man you can see on the left side of the map ('b' in image below), below the panning button, to any road you would like to 'see'. In 'Street View', you can 'walk' on most streets, go back and forth, turn left or right or even look around, all thanks to the awesome people of Google Maps. While we didn't get lost much, not that I was hoping to, having used the 'Street View' saved us from entering the wrong street one time in Brisbane in the middle of the night because I recognised a building. One time wasn't much but hey, it could have been a life saver, you'd never know! It was kind of freaky but cool as I felt it was a feeling of deja vu as I was walking around, like I've walked the streets before even though I've never been to Australia in my life. In big cities such as Sydney, Google Maps even lists out the types of public transportation you can use to get from one place to another while also showing the route on the map. Apart from the walking and public transit mode, you can also choose the car and bicycling routes ('a' in image below).

Choose different types of transportation modes and drag the 'yellow man' onto a road for the street view
The buttons are available for any maps you search for but like I've mentioned before, public transits are only shown on maps of bigger cities. Otherwise it just says 'Public transportation coverage may not be available in this area.' On a side note, I think their camera looks a lot like the sphere-shaped light saber practice thingy. Compare this...
Google Maps camera

With this...

Luke and his... orb-for-lightsaber-practice thingy

Image sources:

5. Skyscanner
Although we got our tickets via a travel agency, we still needed to get tickets to go from Gold Coast to Sydney. We were a bit apprehensive about buying them on our own and ask the awesome promoters of CIT Travel if they could book them there and then for us during the MATTA Fair. They said that if they were to do it for us, it would cost us at the exorbitant rate of RM800 per pax and suggested that we do it on our own as the tickets can be as cheap as AUD$80 (approx. RM250) per pax. Hesitantly we agreed. Thanks to Skyscanner, which pools ticket prices from many airlines and listed according to their rates (or times), my job was made extremely easy. I checked Skyscanner obsessively daily regularly for cheap tickets and finally in September, just a month before we were to fly to Brisbane, Jetstar was having promotions for flights between Gold Coast and Sydney at the mind blowing price of AUD$49 (approx. RM160) per pax. I bought it right away! Calculate the savings yourself *proud of myself*

6. Booking.com/ Wotif/ Agoda
These websites at no. 6, like what Skyscanner does for flights, do the same for hotels. There are many similar websites like these two but I most prefer Booking.com for its easy to use layout. However, using any of the websites on its own does have its cons as it doesn't list out ALL the options of hotels available which could mean you might be losing out on unlisted cheaper hotels. For example, I was looking for the cheapest hotel I could find with a private bathroom and within walking distance to Roma Street Station in Brisbane as we would reach the CBD at 10.30pm from the airport. I found Hotel George Williams in Brisbane (AUD$99 per night, with ensuite bathroom and breakfast provided) via Wotif, not Booking.com. At that time, the cheapest hotel (with private bathroom) in Brisbane according to Booking.com was AUD$100++ (without breakfast) so go figure. You know what they say, "A penny save is a penny earned" or in this case a dollar and breakfast! ^_^ So the best thing to do would be to look at different websites to get the best deal that works for you.

7. Blogs
I don't have specific blogs to recommend as I read many but I particularly liked Kaki Berangan's (Malaysian) blog who wrote a very detailed travelogue and even the expenses incurred. Totally awesome for those on a limited budget like me. His posts on his travels to Gold Coast and Sydney gave me a lot of ideas of where to go and where not to go. The same goes for RedMummy (also Malaysian) although I had to admit that I didn't believe her when she said the Harbour Town Outlet in Gold Coast was expensive, even for her standards. But it really was (expensive)!

Happy planning!

*Disclaimer: Do use the websites/book tickets or rooms at your own risk, I will not be responsible for any untoward incidents (which I hope would NEVER happen to you) from deals done over these websites above.

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