The talesofasia guide to Sydney
Updated April 13, 2005
GETTING TO SYDNEY
Sydney index page
GETTING TO SYDNEY
Arrival by Air
Australia lies 16997 km from London and 15989 km from New York at the bottom end of the southern hemisphere. This means that unless you are big on cruises, or want to island hop through Indonesia and fly to Darwin in the Northern Territory, then you are going to have to take a long haul flight to Sydney.
Sydney is served by Kingsford Smith Airport, which lies on Botany Bay about 30 minutes south of the CBD by taxi (depending on the traffic). Practically all major carriers fly into Sydney, although you may find yourself travelling with a code-share partner rather than your actual carrier of choice.
Most flights to Sydney from the northern hemisphere involve a stopover in either Singapore, Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok, although the arrival of Emirates on the scene means that you can also stopover in Dubai. Direct flights from San Francisco and Los Angeles are also available. Flight times to Sydney obviously vary, but will likely be anywhere between 9 (Singapore) and 25 (New York) hours depending on your origin.
Those with a historical bent may be interested to know that the airport lies a few hundred meters from the spot where the first English penal colonists landed in Australia in 1788. Those wanting a free historical reenactment of the unpleasant conditions that met these prisoners on arrival should conceal some food or animal products in their luggage before they attempt to clear customs (see customs and quarantine, below).
The duty free allowance for Australia (per passenger) is $900 worth of electronic goods / luxury goods, 2.25 litres of alcohol and 250 cigarettes. You should be aware that it if you exceed your duty free allowance in any specific group (i.e. you import 3 cartons of cigarettes, rather than the allowance of one carton) you will be charged duty on the entire group (i.e. all 3 cartons)
The Australians Government’s website for visa information is www.immi.gov.au
A range of visas are available, depending on what passport you hold and what you want to do in Australia.
New Zealand passport holders are able to receive a free visa, on arrival, which allows them to live and work in Australia for an unlimited period of time. All other nationalities require visas in advance of arrival, obtained from Australian consulates overseas. There are four classes of visitor visas, the most common being a 676 (short stay) Tourist visa which allows the holder to remain in Australia for up to three months and the 686 (long stay) Tourist visa which generally allows the holder to remain in Australia for up to 6 months, although 12 month visas may be granted. Multiple entry versions of these visas are apparently available on request.
These visas cost $65 when applied for outside of Australia, and $170/200 (short stay / long stay) when applied for in Australia. The application forms can be obtained from the above website. Some visa applications may need to be accompanied by a passport photo.
Australia also has reciprocal working holiday visa arrangements with the following countries:
the United Kingdom, Canada, the Netherlands, Japan, the Republic of Ireland, Republic of Korea, Malta, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, Finland, the Republic of Cyprus, France, Italy, Belgium and Taiwan
People aged between 18 and 30 who hold one of the above passports may apply for this visa, which costs $170 and may be applied for over the internet. Unlike tourist visas, working holiday visas allow you to stay for 12 months doing whatever (legal) work you like, although you may not work for any one employer for more than three months (you will probably be able to get away with longer if you are not working in hospitality or construction, industries which are routinely targeted by the authorities). If you are able to find an employer who is prepared to ‘sponsor’ you in Australia you may be able to extend your working visa.
Generally speaking, it is not a good idea to breach the conditions of your visa. Depending on the circumstances of your misbehaviour you may have your visa cancelled and you may be deported (often following a stay in one of the government’s privately run detention centres which, by the way, will bill you for your ‘stay’).
Customs and Quarantine
The Australians take their border protection pretty seriously. Apart from the stock standard declarations involving weapons, narcotics and pornography, you will have to declare which countries you have visited in the past couple of months, the purpose of your visit and how much cash you are bringing with you into Australia. You will also be asked to declare any and all food products (basically if you can eat it, you have to declare it). You will also have to declare all plant and animal products (carvings, crafts etc) and if you have been camping or on a farm within a month of arrival they will want to inspect (and possibly decontaminate) your equipment and your shoes.
You may also have trouble getting into the country if you have had tuberculosis or any criminal convictions (a fact which is a little ironic given the history of Australia, although I don’t recommend asking the immigration guy if a criminal record is a prerequisite for getting into the country…..) Australian customs and immigration officials have absolutely no sense of humour whatsoever. Jokes relating to terrorism, bombs, drugs (or the Australian Wallaby’s rugby World Cup loss to England) are also not a terribly good idea.
Kingsford Smith Airport
Once you have cleared customs and immigration you have quite a few options. If you need to change some currency or sell traveller’s cheques there are a number of travelex type places in the main terminal. There are also several ATM’s that accept cirrus / maestro bankcards and credit cards (visa / mastercard) for currency withdrawals. Using foreign bankcards in ATM’s in Australia generally attracts a fee somewhere in the range of 4 – 6 dollars per transaction so you may want to consider getting out a week or two’s worth of cash in one go.
There are several small café / bars in the airport terminal where you can grab a coffee or something to eat if you are desperate, although these places are not exactly value for money and I usually wait until I get back to the city where there are far more reasonably priced and edible options.
If you already have accommodation sorted you can go and arrange transport to your hotel / hostel (see below). If you need some information on where to stay there is an information kiosk in the main terminal that should be able to advise you on accommodation options. The airport also has roaming ‘ambassadors’ who can assist you with information. Look for the old ladies in the ‘80s game show host inspired gold jackets if you’re stuck for something.
You can travel to the city by bus, taxi, or use the rail link. The bus stand is located at the right hand end of the arrival terminal (past arrivals gates A / B) and there are frequent departures to the city, for only a couple of dollars. If you are on a budget, confident about getting to your destination and don’t have 40kg of luggage to hump around the place then this is probably not a bad option as the buses are clean, safe, inexpensive and generally run on time. There is an extensive city-wide network of bus routes. Visit www.sydneybuses.info for timetable / fare / and route information.
In order to cater for the 2000 Summer Olympics, Sydney installed a rail link to the city from the airport. The airport train station is located directly under the international terminal and the entrance is at the far end of the arrivals terminal (past arrival gates A / B). Monitors in the main concourse of the train station (and on the platforms) clearly display destinations and departure times. The trains depart for the city centre quite frequently between 5:09 and 23:45. A one way fare to the city costs $11 which is pretty expensive. Unless you are travelling solo and staying somewhere close (i.e. luggage carrying close) to a train station, then sharing a taxi to the city or inner suburbs is the best option.
The taxi rank is located about 50 meters infront of the arrivals terminal. At peak times you may have to que for several minutes for a taxi although the wait is far worse at the domestic terminal. The airport authority employs staff to assign passengers to queing taxi’s. Taxi drivers often have to queue for over an hour or more to pick up a passenger, and are often not terribly happy if you happen to be going somewhere fairly close to the airport, although legally they are not allowed to refuse to take you to a destination because of a small fare. I find the best way to circumvent this problem is not to mention your destination until you have stowed you luggage in the boot and are inside the car ready to go.
All taxis in Australia use a meter, the flagfall (what you pay for sitting down) is usually just under 3 bucks and then a couple of dollars per kilometre. If you order a taxi by phone, or take any toll roads you can expect to pay extra on top of the fare. There is also an airport levy of a couple of two dollars. An off-peak taxi to the city should cost about $25 - $35, more when the traffic is heavy during peak hours. Some taxi’s allow you to pay by credit card, although you should check this before racking up a large fare without any cash on hand.
A number of shuttle busses also depart the airport for hostels / hotels in the city. These have the advantage of costing about $10 and will generally drop you off right outside your hotel if it happens to be on their route. The downside is that these busses sometimes hang around until they are full and if your hotel happens to be at the end of the route you can expect lurching trip of up to 40 minutes.
Car hire is available from the arrivals terminal, and there are a number of companies to choose from. Traffic travels of the left on Australia and speeds are variable depending on where you are.
A word of caution when using rented cars in Sydney. The State Government, under the auspices of increasing road safety (hey you tell a lie often enough and someone will believe it) have installed a complex network of variable speed roads, and cunningly concealed traffic cameras throughout Sydney. Fines can be attracted for travelling as little as 5 – 10 km/ph over the speed limit. The faster you go, the more you pay. Parking in the city (that is if you can get a park) is also a sketchy option. It is not unheard of for parking wardens to wait by your car if they notice your coupon has nearly expired, and many people receive tickets for parking for less than 60 seconds too long.
Conveniently (despite what the ticket says), the NSW police’s infringement processing bureau (the IPB) cannot suspend a foreign or international driver’s licence and they cannot force you to pay your fines if you are out of the country. The IPB are so slow at what they do that by the time your rental company has worked out who was driving the car at the time of the offence and given your details to the IPB you’ll probably be long gone. That said, it’s still probably not a great idea to brush up on your cannonball run skills as unpaid tickets may affect your ability to rent vehicles in Australia in the future.
Arrival by Air
The domestic terminal is about 2km away from the international terminal and it is not possible to walk between the two. Taking a train between the international and domestic terminals ($4) is the easiest option, although Qantas may provide a connecting shuttle if you are transferring to or from an international flight.
The major domestic carriers Qantas (which is an acronym for Queensland and Northern Territory Air Service, www.qantas.com.au), Virgin Blue (www.virginblue.com.au) and Jet Star (Qantas’s budget carrier, www.jetstar.com.au) provide direct services to all major destinations in Australia, although only Qantas and Jetstar fly the long haul route to Perth (about 4.5 hours flying time). There are also a number of smaller (but fairly expensive) carriers such as Rex which service smaller regional centres. The domestic terminal is split into two major sections (one for Qantas / Jet Star, one for Virgin Blue), although it is possible to walk between the two in about 5 minutes.
The best (and cheapest) way to book domestic airfares is to use the carrier’s internet website. It is worth keeping in mind that the cheapest fares offered by most carriers are non-refundable and incur fees for rebooking. If you miss your flight it is likely that you will lose your fare and Jet Star has attracted bad publicity recently for its policy of “late to check in, lose your fare” policy.
The options for getting to the city from the domestic terminal are pretty much the same as from the international terminal and like the international terminal there is a train station directly underneath the arrivals hall. Getting a taxi from the domestic terminal will generally take a bit longer than from the international terminal, especially during peak hours. The costs for transport to the city are generally the same as from the international terminal.
Arrival by Bus and Train
If you don’t have a car, country / interstate trains and buses are a good way of travelling between centres that are not serviced by air links. All long distance rail services and the majority of bus services depart from, or terminate at Sydney’s major transport hub, the imaginatively named Central Station. Buses operate from numbered stands on Eddy Ave which borders the northern aspect of the station. Several bus companies have offices here, but you should also be able to make bookings through travel agents, and some hostels. Compared to air travel, bus transport is fairly expensive.
Country and interstate trains depart daily from Central Station. www.cityrail.info contains detailed timetable information. If you are arriving at Central Station from an interstate destination you can easily change trains to access the Sydney suburban rail network. Sydney buses depart from Railway Square (on the George Street Side of the station), and from Eddy Ave (on the opposite side of the road from the station). Walking north along George Street, it takes approximately 20 minutes to get to the CBD. If you are heading towards China Town, Darling Harbour, The Casino or out to Lillyfield you can take the light rail service from the outside platform on the first floor at the Eddy Ave end of the station.
Central Station has a few basic café’s / fast food places (Burger King and KFC) and toilet facilities (light with a delightful purple UV glow, assumedly to deter junkies). You may also be able to store luggage for a small fee.
Central Station is quite large, has a number of entrances (two on Eddy Ave, one on George Street, three on Devonshire Street), is comprised of several levels of platforms and is not terribly well signposted (especially when you’re in a hurry). With this in mind it is probably a good idea to give yourself plenty of time to get to the station and locate your train / bus. www.citysearch.com and www.whereis.com.au both provide excellent searchable maps of the city.
Sydney index page
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