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February 15, 2006

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                                        Sydney, Australia

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G’day mate! Last week we ended as we left Anthony Robbins’ resort Namale in Fiji. I had just surprised my dad with spur-of-the-moment tickets to Australia, instead of heading home. (Online, I found $500 round-trip tickets to Sydney from Nadi, Fiji). That’s where we pick up now.

Our 1-hour flight back to Viti Levu (the main island of Fiji) was smooth but a little hairy, as the pilots brought us real close to the mountains. From the domestic terminal we took a short walk to the international check-in, and passed through customs and security. We flew Pacific Blue to Sydney. This New Zealand-based airline is a subsidiary of Australia's Virgin Blue, which is 25 percent owned by Richard Branson’s Virgin empire. The 1,970-mile flight took just over 4 hours, and was quite comfortable. The plane, outfitted with blue and red leather seats, was only a third full, so my dad and I each had our own row for napping. The budget airline is operated like Europe’s Easy Jet: They charge for everything, including water. You should either bring your own food and drink or have some Australian (AUD) or New Zealand dollars (NZD) handy, because they don’t take American Express -- or any other credit card. They don’t even accept Fijian or US dollars. Ouch! But the flight attendants helped make the time go quickly. They were a lot of fun --they even painted little kids’ faces in the back galley -- and they gave prizes (candy bars) for the cleanest seat back pockets. That’s a clever way for Pacific Blue to save time and money on plane-cleaning. (Hint: To pass the time, you can rent ($12 AUD = $8.80 USD) a Personal In-flight Entertainment System that plays movies, TV shows and music. Pacific Blue Website. Pacific Blue In-Flight Menu.

You knew that Australia is one of the earth’s seven continents, right? Did you also know it’s the only continent to fly one flag? Or that Australia is the largest island in the world? Australia is divided into six states (New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania) and two territories (Northern Territory and ACT - Australian Capital Territory). In terms of land mass, Australia is about the same size as the continental United States. However, it has nowhere near the same number of people. Australia's population is only 20 million, while the United States’ is 285 million. The population of the New York metropolitan area alone is 18 million. Crazy, huh? Most Australians live along the coast, as the interior is too harsh. Australia’s major cities are as multiethnic as any in the U.S. The most recent census found that 3.9 million people were born overseas, 3.8 million had one or both parents born overseas, and 2.6 million people spoke a language other than English at home. (There are 282 major languages spoken in Australia). The vast majority (94%) are of European descent; 4% are Asian, and 1.5% are Aboriginal (native Australians.).

My dad and I got excited when we flew over Australia’s mainland, especially Sydney Harbour -- it’s beautiful even from the air. If you’re a longtime Johnny Jet reader, please forgive me for not taking you to a new Australian destination. I’ve been to Sydney many times, and believe me, as much as I love this city I really want to explore other parts of Australia. But my dad had never been to Australia. We had only five days Down Under, and I didn’t want to wear him down with too much travel. I promise the next time I go to Australia (hopefully, soon) I will explore more than Sydney.

After landing at Sydney Kingsford Airport we grabbed a free luggage cart -- that’s the way it should be for all international arrivals worldwide. It’s so rude when a city or country does not offer free carts to international arrivals (ahem, Newark Liberty International Airport). We quickly cleared customs, then hit the airport ATM so we could pay for the $35AUD, 20-minute, 12 km (7.4 mile) taxi ride into the city. (Tip: Using your ATM and/or credit card in any country offers the best exchange rates.) The Australian dollar is still a bargain for Americans, though not as much as it once was. Currently 1 AUD = .74 USD. Yet the whole country is on sale: 25% off for Americans, even more for Europeans.

Although a prepaid phone card is much cheaper, I prefer cell phones for three reasons: It’s more convenient, more sanitary (you don’t have to touch a keypad infected with everyone else’s germs), and it gives a sense of security (it’s nice to pick up the phone any time, or have a number where loved ones can reach you at all hours). I travel with a GSM phone. At the airport I bought an Australian SIM card for only $30 AUD -- and it came with $30 of talk time. That’s a great deal. Not only that, but all incoming calls on these cell phones -- regardless of where they are dialed from, even overseas -- are free. That’s right, FREE! There are a few different calling plans. We chose the one that offered the lowest fees to call the U.S. It cost us 27 cents a minute, whether we called next door or Los Angeles. You can get a GSM cell phone equipped with the SIM before you leave from, or buy one when you arrive in Australia.

We stayed at Rendezvous Stafford Hotel, down in the Rocks. The Rocks is a quaint, charming area within walking distance of Sydney Harbour (Opera House and Circular Quay), city center and the Harbour Bridge. The Rocks was Australia's first European settlement, and the area has plenty of history, hotels, restaurants, shops and a weekend market that’s a perfect place to buy Australian souvenirs from locals. If you’re not afraid of heights, the best thing to do in Sydney is the Bridge Climb. Warning: It takes about three hours, you have to pass a breathalyzer test (no drunks allowed), reservations are necessary, and it costs $160 AUD ($117 USD).

The Rendezvous Stafford Hotel is a renovated apartment building turned into a comfortable, quiet, affordable 4-star boutique hotel in a fantastic location (two blocks from the Harbour). The Rendezvous Stafford has 61 spacious rooms including studios, one-bedroom apartments and terrace apartments. Our one-bedroom was perfect for us. My dad had his own room, and I slept on the pull-out couch in the living room. As you can see in the 1-minute video below, our living room had a fabulous view of the Opera House plus a full-size kitchen. It also had a desk, and access to inexpensive broadband internet ($9.95 AUD = $7.30 USD a day). They also had computers with internet in the lobby for $10 AUD an hour. Room rates begin at $257 AUD = $189 USD a night (can be found for less online using hotel discounters); most rates include free continental breakfast. Rendezvous Stafford Hotel, 75 Harrington Street, The Rocks, Sydney; tel.: 61-2-9251-6711; fax: 61-2-9251-3458; email:

Because of our hotel’s ideal location, every morning my dad and I took a walk to Mrs. Macquarie's Chair. (Her husband was an early 19th-century governor, and he had the chair carved into the point so she could enjoy the panoramic views). Early risers will enjoy the spectacular views with just a few local joggers. To reach Mrs. Macquarie's chair, walk past the Opera House and follow the signs; it’s near the botanical gardens. The gates don’t open officially until 6 a.m., but sometimes they open earlier -- as they did when we were there.) On the way back we walked through the Royal Botanical Gardens, one of the nicest parks in the world and one of the few that encourages visitors to walk on the grass. The highlight is watching the thousands of bats -- I’m talking big ol’ flying fruit fox bats -- that are very visible hanging from the trees during the day, and seen flying around at dusk.

My dad is so funny. He honestly believed that Fiji changed his life, because the locals were so incredibly friendly. As you probably know from reading my Johnny Jet Newsletter, everyone in Fiji greets each other with a BIG smile and a loud "bula" (pronounced boo-lah). So my dad decided to take that friendly spirit to Sydney. To every person we passed walking down the street (especially the pretty girls) he said "Bula!" I said, "Dad, are you kidding me? Are you trying to pretend you’re Crocodile Dundee in New York City?" He asked, "What’s wrong with being friendly?" I said, "Dad, Australians are friendly, but in Sydney they’re a little bit more reserved than other parts of the country. Besides, you’re scaring people. Most people don’t even know what ‘bula’ means." He didn’t want to hear anything I had to say. A few seconds later a Japanese tourist walked by, and as I predicted my dad gave an extra loud "bula!" (just to make sure I heard). The startled woman took a step back, as she let out a minor scream. When she realized my dad was just being friendly, she smiled. And my Dad said "See"!

The first unofficial day of summer Down Under is December 1! Ain’t that a trip?! However, the warm temperatures also bring silent and obnoxious bush flies. Billions of these pests head straight for your eyes and mouth (they seek moisture as a refuge from the hot sun). This year seems to be particularly bad. I read in the Sydney Morning Herald that Australia has 20,000 species of flies, but the bush fly is the one humans hate most. Locals suggest tying a damp cloth around your forehead, or getting a wide-brimmed hat (available at all souvenir stores) with hanging wine corks to do the swatting. Otherwise, the Australian salute will have to do. (That’s a wave in front of the face, shooing away the annoying flies). But don’t get too concerned. In a couple of weeks (around March, when temperatures start to cool), most of the flies die.

To seek our own refuge from the high temps my dad and I jumped on a ferry from Circular Quay. Circular Quay is at the foot of the central business district, but more importantly is the hub of Sydney Harbour. Ferries leave every few minutes for different parts of the calm harbor. If you prefer to stay on solid ground, you can catch buses or trains from the Quay. But that’s a shame; the ferries are the best way to travel. Our first ferry was a 30-minute ride to Manly ($12AUD R/T). Manly has two sides: the harbor side, and the beach side. My favorite (and everyone else’s) is the beach side. To get there from the ferry, just follow the crowd as they walk straight for a quick 10 minutes down The Corso. The Corso has all kinds of shops (including a grocery store), cafes, pubs, restaurants and ice cream parlors. At the far end near the beach we went into a brand new surf store called Surfection (74-78 The Corso; tel.: 02-9977-4777). My dad insisted on buying us some new Aussie Quicksilver bathing suits, so we could take a dip and have nice souvenirs to take home.

Instead of swimming on crowded and rough-water Manly Beach, we took a 30-minute walk along the oceanside path to Shelly Beach. It is much less crowded, has a lot fewer tourists, and was a perfect place for my dad to swim (there were no waves). At Shelly Beach and along the path there are couple of good but pricey restaurants, where you can sit outside and enjoy the view. But when we passed them we weren’t hungry, so we ended up eating lunch at Café Steyne back on Manly Beach. We sat outside and found the food to be good; portions were large, and the service was great. I had the steak sandwich ($15 AUD); my dad had the seafood soup ($16 AUD). Café Steyne, 14 South Steyne, Manly Beach, tel.: 9977-0116.

No visit to Sydney is complete without seeing Bondi Beach. It’s one of the world’s most famous beaches, but it can’t be reached by ferry (only taxi or bus). Although the beach was packed -- mostly with tourists -- it’s still an incredible destination. The best things to do are strolling along the coastal walk to see the spectacular coastline, then cooling off by drinking with Sydney’s in crowd at Icebergs swim club and bar, 1 Notts Ave., Bondi NSW 2026; tel.: 02-9130-3120.

Because most of my dad’s vacations are spent around the dinner table (we both love to eat), I’ll list a few of our most memorable restaurants. For late night food when most Sydney restaurants are closed, head to Chinatown (many restaurants here are open until 4 a.m.). Sydney’s Chinatown is good sized. Golden Century Seafood Restaurant is arguably Sydney’s best Chinese restaurant, and most popular. Even at 11 p.m. we had to wait for a table. If I hadn’t known better, I would have sworn I was in Hong Kong. The clientele is mostly Chinese (a sign that the food is good and authentic). Inside, the restaurant has a wall of tanks filled with all kinds of live fish, crabs, lobsters, oysters, abalone and other seafood lover delights that are nervously waiting to be plucked, then brought to customers for approval before going into the fryer. For dinner I had the sizzling chicken hot pot ($15.80 AUD). My dad gave an expensive mud crab ($54 AUD) the death sentence. Believe it or not, that was one of the more inexpensive fresh catches on the menu. Golden Century Seafood Restaurant, 393-399 Sussex Street, Sydney; tel: 612-9212-3901 .

If you’re looking for a more traditional seafood restaurant, head to Doyle’s in Watson’s Bay. This popular tourist restaurant with good service is famous for its fresh seafood and gorgeous views. The best time is lunch, so you can take the ferry ($4.80 AUD one way) and relax on the harbor. My dad had the fresh catch of the day (flounder), while I filled my belly with their only non-seafood dishes: a house salad, french fries, mixed steamed vegetables and a juicy mango for dessert. Doyles, Watson’s Bay Wharf, Sydney; tel.: 02-9337-1572.

Diners looking for fresh seafood and a good selection of landlubber dishes should head to Nick’s Restaurant (there are several in the area). We went to the one on King Street Wharf, which is massive – it seats up to 500 customers. Nick’s offers casual alfresco dining with spectacular waterfront views. I had the petit filet ($26 AUD); my dad had the oysters ($16 AUD) and Scallops ($17 AUD), and of course we split a decadent chocolate dessert ($13 AUD). After dinner we walked off our feast by touring nearby Darling Harbour. Nick's Bar and Grill, The Promenade King Street Wharf, Sydney NSW 2000; tel.: 02-9279-0122.

Our last evening brought us to the suburbs. We took the train from Circular Quay to Turramurra to visit my friends Kristine and Damien. The train ($4 AUD one way) took 30 minutes (including a quick transfer), and was really easy. It was nice to get away from the city and see the suburbs. Turramurra felt a lot like where I grew up in Connecticut. I think the independent shops and quaint streets reminded me of home in the summer. For dinner they took us to one of their favorite restaurants: Road to Goa. We ate some of the best Indian food I’ve ever had, and it was moderately priced. They don’t have a liquor license, but they are conveniently located next to a liquor store so you can BYO. If it’s warm, sit outside; it’s much quieter there. Road to Goa, Shop 11, 351 Mona Vale Road, St. Ives; tel.: 9440-0077.

Here’s a 1-minute Johnny Jet Video of our trip to Sydney. With high-speed the video takes about 1 minute to load; with dial-up, please allow up to three weeks.

Next week we head back to the U.S., then get ready for another international destination. Here’s a hint: It’s freezing cold, and is the second-largest French-speaking city in the world after Paris.

Happy Travels,
Johnny Jet

*Please tell us what you think of this week's newsletter!

Pictures From

The Trip


Savusavu to Nadi


Coral Reefs


Pacific Blue


Flight Attendants


G'Day Mate!


Welcome To Australia


Rendezvous Stafford Hotel




Living Room


View From Room


Walk to Mrs. Macquarie's Chair


Opera House




My Dad


Manly Ferry




Manly Beach


Oceanside Path


Shelly Beach


Bondi Beach




Coastal Walk




Golden Century Wait


Getting Dinner


Watson’s Bay


View From Doyles


Nick's Dessert




Road To Goa



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  • Over-the-top awesome! Thank you so much for taking your dad to such a grand place in Fiji and then on to Australia...My husband and I hope to make the trip one day when our ducks line up properly...but meanwhile we love your help in letting us escape with you on your do a truly great service for those of us who can't get out easily...keep it up we pray... Dennis & Shirley L. - Kent, Washington
  • Hope you have a great time 'Downunder'. And you at least get to travel to Melbourne which I'm sure you'd love. Very cosmopolitan and not ritzy like Sydney or L.A. - more San Francisco or New York. (but on a smaller scale!) Michele Rushby – Melbourne, Australia
  • Awesome! I have been wanting to go to the Namale Fiji Islands Resort & Spa! Now I know more about it! I really want to go now! Thanks for sharing your vacation with your Father. I had tears in "my" eyes! I love Johnny Jet! Go Johnny go! Nancey O – Chicago
  • Great clip I think it is one of the best pieces you have done... ran it twice I was so impressed...also cool you are sharing this time with your dad. Roy L – Sarasota, FL
  • Thanks for the newsletter... really enjoy it! Jack C - Alaska
  • Fantastic report on Fiji. Can you let me know where I can get a recording (DVD) of the band/singer JJ uses on his final video clip? Do you still offer the $300 discount for T Robbins seminars if coordinated through JJ’s website? Much appreciated. William Erickson – REPLY Thanks for the kind words. We are still waiting to hear back from Tony Robbin’s camp if the discount is still valid. The name of the Artist is IZ and you can buy his album “Alone in IZ World” by clicking this link
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  • Love it! Your spirit of adventure and generosity to your dad is overwhelmingly lovely! Love your newsy newsletters and your positive attitude and love of travel! Gerri Keating - Madison, Connecticut
  • I loved your video. The music went perfect with it. GREAT JOB. Gloria D – Los Angeles, CA
  • Johnny – this week’s newsletter was the best! You and your dad look so happy! I especially loved the music with the video – Iz is my favorite Hawaiian singer – too bad he’s no longer with us. I can hardly wait to see your dad in Australia! GC- California
  • What a wonderful trip to take your Dad on! And sharing it with "all of us" is even more special. Thank you. May you and your family have many more memorable trips together. Judy Sanderson - Naples, FL
  • Nice Video…..made me miss Fiji! Debora R - Westchester, CA
  • Loved the video of you and your dad in Fiji! Very well done. You have found your calling in the video and photographic parts of your site. Really good stuff. I just went out on itunes and bought that somewhere over the rainbow music. Chris M – San Francisco, CA
  • You must be an official Fijian by now! Looks like you had yet another fabulous time in paradise. Aiden F – Boston, MA
  • On Feb 7 on the “Call for help” Tech TV program you mentioned a few web sites for travel information: USA in the sky, Smarter Travel, Frommers, there was one other one and I did not get it. Could you email it to me? P.S.- all of the information that you provide is very helpful and it is really great that there are people like yourself helping out the little guy--thanks again --keep up the great work. Rick soon - REPLY Thanks for the kind words and support! The list can be found on this page
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  • Nice job today....we had calls and emailfrom a number of women offering proposals of your expense of course. Roy Lowey, Producer and Host Talking Travel on Travel Talk Radio Network
  • In case you haven't seen it yet, check out today's (Tuesday) NY Times business section -- Joe Sharkey gave you a GREAT mention as a travel site he loves! Congrats – Dan – Westport, CT

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