If you’re off to Australia for a bit of backpacking or volunteering, or even just for a cheeky break, you might be a little tense about the prospect of arriving on the other side of the world with jet lag and little idea of where you’re going, how the ticket machines work or just what the bloody hell they think they’re doing trying to sell you cold beer in a ‘schooner’?
Chances are that your first port of call will be Sydney’s Kingsford-Smith airport, so we’ve put this short guide together to hopefully smooth your path a little.
Immigration and customs
When you get to immigration, the major worry you’re likely to have is: “Oh god, I don’t have anything to prove I’ve got a visa. That can’t be right! What if they send me home? I only just got through that last flight without going stab-crazy with cabin-fever!” No need to fear – regardless of your visa type, they’ll just put your passport number into their computer, it’ll go bing and you’ll get a new stamp in your passport and a slice of Aussie humour to send you on your way. Everyone’s a comedian in this country, so you’ll have to get used to it.
Next up is customs, where you’ll have to have all your luggage X-rayed again. Nothing to worry about as long as you don’t have any foreign organic matter on you (fruit, vegetables, carnivores with prolific breeding habits and a taste for marsupial flesh, that sort of thing). If you do, you’ll need to declare it and get it checked or chucked by the customs officials.
Enjoy the air-con while it lasts! The two main things not to miss in the arrivals lounge are the cash machine and the backpacker information area.
Fortunately the two things are right next to each other, so just head left once you’re through customs and look for the wall plastered with plastic tiles and free phones. If you’ve been silly enough not to reserve a place in a hostel then this is a great way to ask around a selection of hostels for free, rather than traipsing around Sydney in the heat with your backpack on. If you’ve already arranged a bed, give your hostel a call, let them know you’ve arrived and find out how to get there.
The cash machine is just around the corner, so go get yourself some of that waterproof, untearable Australian money. It’s brilliant, and there’s a little cellophane window in each note for some reason.
Chances are someone will speak to you outside the airport and try to get you to stay at their hostel. The likelihood is that they’re not up to anything dodgy – they just don’t want to pay to advertise their hostel in the arrivals lounge. Unless you’ve drawn a blank on all the freephone numbers, you’ll probably be best off to avoid these guys if only because, from experience, their hostels are a bit crappy.
Getting into the city
Unless you’re being met by your chauffeur, or have arranged a pick up via your hostel, arrival or work starter pack or volunteering organisation, you have three basic choices when it comes to getting into the centre of Sydney:
Taxis go from out front and should cost around $30-35 into the city centre. If there are four of you, this is probably the best way of getting from the airport into town. It’s still good if there are less, just not as cost-effective.
Follow the signs for the train, then buy a single to central station. This costs $12.50 and covers the six stops into town quicker than a bus or a taxi. Central Station is about a minute’s walk from the Wake Up! hostel and from YHA Railway Square – however, it’s a fair distance from King’s Cross, so if you’re headed there you’ll need to take another bus, taxi or train. You’re better off getting on the airport shuttle bus, but if you’re desperate to sample Sydney’s double-decker train service, grab a train to Bondi Junction – King’s Cross is the third stop from Central.
Head out of the front doors, turn right (without crossing any sort of road) and look for the small, white buses with the ‘KST’ code in the window. For about $10, these bad boys will drop you off at whichever hostel you’ve chosen.
So, anyway, to break it down:
- If there are more than three of you, take a taxi.
- If you are staying at Wake Up!, YHA Railway Square, or anywhere near the Central Station, take a train.
- If you are staying in King’s Cross or anywhere else a bit away from the middle – take an airport shuttle.
- A quick tip – if you get the time to plan your arrival procedure before you fly out, check out TransportInfoNSW‘ it’s a brilliant route planner – you tell it where you’re heading to and from, and it works all your transport out for you, including walking and waiting times.
Just a final word about King’s Cross. It’s cheap and it’s seedy, but it’s not to be feared. This is where you’ll find the largest concentration of backpackers and cheap hostels in Sydney. It’s also where you’ll find plenty of prostitutes, sex shops, slightly sleazy nightclubs, very sleazy lapdancing clubs, 24hr sports bars and Famous Roy’s breakfast emporium. If you’ve seen Soho in London or Amsterdam’s Red Light District though, it’s hardly going to be an eye-opener for you.
Don’t put yourself at risk and you’ll be fine. There’s no need to fret if this is the only part of town where you can find a bed. The main problem is that it’s a pain in the ass to walk into town and your room will very likely be sweaty and / or dirty. If you want to avoid it, just book your bed for the night of your arrival well in advance. It’s an interesting place to go for a night out though…