Ultimateoz Opera House

Welcome to Australia Mate: My Experience with UltimateOz

In Australia by KatelynLeave a Comment

UltimateOz Australia flag

I finally made it to Australia!

It’s wonderful. There are loads of kangaroos hopping around, spiders bigger than my head, and, of course, gorgeous blond surfer dudes everywhere throwing back Fosters.

Just kidding.

About the kangaroos and surfer dudes. The verdict is still out about the spiders…

Remember a long time ago I won this really awesome contest with Go Overseas? Well, after what seemed like a lifetime of waiting (okay, I spent most of that time traveling around the world), I finally touched down in Oz on April 3rd. After an exhausting three months constantly on the move, I was finally ready to be in one place for a while. You have no idea how excited I am for a sock drawer!

Part of my prize package was a weeklong introduction to Australia through Sydney-based Ultimate Travel. Ultimate Travel has been offering tours around Australia, Thailand, and Vietnam for the past six years to backpackers and gap year students looking to experience life Down Under. Their UltimateOz 7-day gap year arrival package is their most popular package.

UltimateOz certainly has some advantages, which I’ll get into more towards the end of the post, but the best part is – you don’t have to think much about your first week in Oz as it’s completely planned for you. As soon as I landed and cleared customs and immigrations (still waiting for my passport stamp, Australia…) I was able to hop on the pre-paid airport shuttle that delivered me straight to my hostel, Wake Up, in Sydney.

I arrived a day early in hopes of getting some sleep, but alas that didn’t really work out so well. Instead, I spent much of the day in a mental fog just wandering around doing errands and attempting to catch up on client work. On Monday, the real fun and games began.

At 11:30am sharp our two very bubbly and loud tour guides arrived in the hostel reception to whisk us away to the Ultimate Travel office just a block away for a quick introduction before the afternoon walking tour. Our veteran tour guide, Dani, had been with UltimateOz for a few months but was leaving after our group to complete her farm work for her second-year visa. Nele, our second tour guide, was stepping up to the plate and was on the job training. How lucky were we to have two awesome tour guides? 

Ultimateoz Opera House

Can’t go to Sydney without visiting the Opera House (Photo Credit: UltimateOz)

We spent Monday afternoon walking around central Sydney. Just like any city, Sydney is quite large, but her central area is quite small and walkable. Our route took us through Chinatown to Darling Harbor to the Opera House. At most we walked a 5 km. No big deal. After snapping photos at the Opera House, we were left to our own devices to make our way back to our hostel for the evening festivities. This is the point I should mention that I couldn’t find my way out of a paper bag if I had too. Thankfully my partner-in-crime, Janel, and I managed to figure it out on our own. Winning!

UltimateOz

Free drinks & pizza at Sie Bar (Photo Credit: UltimateOz)

Our evening plans consisted of a free drink and pizza at Side Bar, Wake Up’s in-house bar. While I will generally always eat free food, I don’t recommend the Side Bar pizza. But free is free in an expensive city like Sydney, right?

Tuesday morning started bright and early with a work and travel session on everything you need to know about working and playing in Australia. Max, one of the company’s travel agents, presented a very lively PowerPoint on life in Australia. If you ever see Max at the office make sure you ask him about his skydiving experience. Or better yet just ask one of the other staff members for the video. But, I didn’t tell you that…

If you’re serious about maximizing your time in Australia then you definitely should attend the session. While nothing in the presentation is rocket science, you’ll leave feeling a little more confident in your decision to move halfway across the world. UltimateOz helps you with the little things like obtaining your tax file number, bank account, and tax refunds.

Here is my first big gripe. Hold on a minute while I grab my soapbox…. UltimateOz partners with a tax refund company to help you get your money back when you leave Australia. A company representative presented a quick 3-minute overview of the process stating that you’ll be able to get back on average $2500. If you ask any backpacker who has worked in Australia if they have ever received that kind of money back, they will tell you no. Chances are you will not get that kind of money back. Don’t drink the Koolaid kids! Not to mention the girl never mentioned that the backpacker tax rate might be changing to over 30% in July if the government approves it. End rant. 

Tuesday afternoon was spent on the company catamaran sailing around Sydney Harbor. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect for an onboard BBQ and some swimming. It was nice to finally meet and chat with my fellow travelers. We were a diverse group with a large majority coming from the UK with a few Europeans and a couple Canadians. I was the lone American representative. At this point, I’m quite used to it. Just please for the love of god stop asking me what I think of Donald Trump!

UltimateOz

Just chilling in Sydney Harbor (Photo Credit: UltimateOz)

Most people spent Wednesday morning sorting out their bank accounts with the help of Dani and Nele. Since I picked up my card on Monday I spent the morning working at the Ultimate Travel office. They have free wifi, which is extremely rare in Australia. I’ve already moved in. 

After storing our large luggage items at the office it was time to head to the best part of UltimateOz – basecamp! Basecamp is located three hours north up the coast near Port Stephens. We spent two nights in a rustic coastal hostel, Melaleuca Backpackers, complete with a tamed kangaroo, possums (they may be cute but they love fingers for breakfast), and huntsmen spiders! It was nice to get out of the hustle and bustle of the city.

Josie UltimateOz

Josie just chilling in the grass

Our first night was spent eating pizza (thankfully good pizza!) and drinking games before heading down to the beach to splash in the waves. Josie, the tamed kangaroo can be seen hopping and lazing around the hostel grounds throughout the day. She might even surprise you as you’re brushing your teeth!

Thursday was a big day of outdoor adventures. My favorite! We headed to the local sand dunes for a little sandboarding action and pippie (clams) racing on the beach. After emptying all the sand out of our shoes we headed towards Nelson Bay to hike up Mount Tomaree for beautiful views of the surrounding bays. The afternoon was ours to spend. I ended up napping on the couch and walking around the open field in an attempt to find a mobile signal to send a couple client emails. What? I’m a workaholic. Don’t judge.    

UltimateOz

Sand boarding fun at Basecamp (Photo Credit: UltimateOz)

Thursday night was a bit more relaxed compared to the previous night, which was good for this old girl who can’t party two nights in a row. Unless it’s on a yacht in Greece

Now that we have explored the sand dunes and mountains (if you can even call it that) of Port Stephens, it was time to head out on the water in search of dolphins. Due to the calm waters of the bay, hundreds of dolphins call Port Stephens home. Within the first 5 minutes onboard Dani spotted a pod of dolphins swimming along in the distance. Most of us braved the cold water to ride in the boom net in hopes of “swimming” with dolphins, but they never did come close enough.

UltimateOz dolphin cruise

Dolphins!

Most of Friday afternoon was spent taking the train back to Sydney to check back into Wake Up hostel for the next three days. I had a lot of work to catch up on and just wanted to sleep. Unfortunately, my roomies had a different idea and just wanted to party. And this is why I purposely avoid party hostels during my travels. 

Saturday was a free day. I think most of my group spent it recovering from the night before. I’m sure you can guess where I spent my day… working. Despite my distaste for Wake Up, they do have good wifi. Every Saturday night UltimateOz offers a pub crawl. The program includes a free ticket, but even if you’re not part of the tour group you can just purchase a ticket at the office. The ticket includes free admission to four bars with a free drink at each. Every week is a different rotating theme. Ours was glow paint and mustaches. Weird, I know.

UltimateOz pub crawl

The crew rocking the glow paint (Photo Credit: UltimateOz)

Now, I had a lot of fun on the Ultimate pub Crawl, but I wouldn’t quite call it “ultimate.” With all the hype I was expecting something a little different (Santacon, anyone?). Don’t get me wrong, I had fun, but it left me feeling a little meh.

We all woke up, some of us with a hangover, to a beautiful bluebird day on Sunday. It was perfect for our last activity – the infamous cliff walk from Coogee to Bondi beaches. We spent several hours just leisurely walking from beach to beach along the cliff. We even passed the cliffside cemetery where only the richest people get to rest in eternity. And that was it. My week with UltimateOz was over. It was bittersweet.

My experience with UltimateOz was positive and I would definitely recommend them if you’re looking for a great introduction to Australia or are nervous first-time solo traveler. You will instantly have awesome new friends. If you’re still on the fence about UltimateOz let’s take a look at my pros and cons list.

Pros
  • Your first week is completely planned for you from your airport pick up to your accommodations to activities
  • Instant friends and travel buddies
  • Friendly and knowledge staff (who seem to put up with my annoying and often times random questions)
  • Awesome discounts on travel across Australia, South Pacific, and South East Asia
  • They arrange your visa, tax file number, and serve as your mail box for the entire time you’re in Oz
  • You get to hang out with Josie
Cons
  • Everything they do is not rocket science if you’re smart enough and/or looking to save money you can do all the work-related tasks on your own
  • The tax refund lady really annoyed me
  • The tour really caters to the young crowd versus a more mature and professional backpacker
  • Wake Up is a party hostel. If you’re looking to get some sleep it will not happen here

Everyone I met in my group was awesome. I loved learning about their home countries and reasons to travel Australia. However, as a more mature backpacker I sometimes struggled a bit with the group and activities (and the smoking. Seriously guys! QUIT SMOKING! It’s so bad for your health. Don’t make me take out my soapbox again…). I’m not here in Australia to party all the time. I’m here to explore the country through its culture and amazing outdoor activities and to gain international work experience. UltimateOz seems to cater more towards the 18-22-year-old crowd versus the mid-to-late 20’s crowd.

I would love to see UltimateOz expand its resources and activities to include events and resources for those of us looking more towards a more laid-back experience and professional jobs. I’d much rather go wine tasting than a pub crawl. Their job board is definitely geared more towards hospitality and farming jobs. That’s great for most backpackers. I’d love to see them expand into more professional or office jobs by creating a resource list of Sydney (and other cities) recruiters and a calendar of networking events. But, I also know it’s all about the business line so I know it won’t realistically happen. A workaholic, career-driven American girl can dream, right?

UltimateOz Sydney Harbor cruise

This could be you… (Photo Credit: UltimateOz)

Overall, I had a positive experience with UltimateOz. If you’re new to solo travel or nervous about moving halfway across the world then UltimateOz is a great way to ease yourself into life in Australia. You’ll instantly meet new travel buddies and the Ultimate Travel staff is top notch (they’d have put up with me thus far and I can be demanding). If you’re a more mature backpacker looking more for a professional experience then you can probably figure things out on your own. But, if you want to play with a cute kangaroo named Josie….

Have you done an Ultimate Travel Tour? What was your experience?

My week with UltimateOz was provided to me as part of my prize package from the Go Overseas and Australian Tourism Board’s Work and Play in Australia contest. Neither parties required me to write anything on this little blog. I just love sharing my experiences in hopes of enriching yours. Like always, my opinions are my own. Honest and blunt as expected. 

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