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Need help with cost of self-planned trip vs. guided tour?

Need help with cost of self-planned trip vs. guided tour?

Aug 13th, 2005, 02:36 PM
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Need help with cost of self-planned trip vs. guided tour?

We are planning a 15-20 day trip to Australia in mid-April, '06. We know the cost of a guided tour, but wonder about costs of doing things on our own & lodging (excluding RT air from US). We think we'd like to do Cairns/Barr. Reef 4 days, Alice Spgs/Rock 3-4 days (our last name is Ayers, so that's a must ; Adalaide/Kangaroo Isl. 3 days & Brisbane 2-3 days, which is apx 12-14 days, what else would anyone suggest? We'll take all the input & info we can get. thanks.
Paytons_Grandma is offline  
Aug 13th, 2005, 03:57 PM
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If this is your first visit to Australia, I suggest dropping Brisbane and Adelaide/KI and adding 3-4 days in Sydney - there are good reasons why it's on almost every visitor's itinerary.

I've got nothing against Brisbane and Adelaide, which are nice cities, but I wouldn't sacrifice Sydney for either of them. Kangaroo Island IMO is overrated, but I know it has its fans. There are good opportunities to get close to wildlife around Cairns.

I'd suggest Tasmania too, if you can stretch to 14 days all up and maybe cut a day from Alice Springs/Uluru. (Are you comfortable about driving on the LH side?)

Australia is a relatively easy place to get around in and presents few challenges to American visitors.
It's hard to give you much help with costs without knowing what sort of accommodation and eating you favour and what your interests are. However, if you plan well you can get good last-minute discounts on hotels (see www.wotif.com) - likewise domestic air fares, for as long as the current price wars continue. Check Qantas, Virgin Blue and Jetstar websites - also have a look at www.australia.com, the official tourism website.

I also recommend investing in a guidebook - even if you end up taking a guided tour, you'll be better informed about what you're seeing.
Neil_Oz is offline  
Aug 13th, 2005, 05:05 PM
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Hi Paytons,

There are good and bad points to both independent travel and a tour.

It's hard to advise you with a general post (as opposed to you sitting across from me, while I ask you specific questions).

If you haven't travelled very much and are concerned about making connections, possbily driving, etc., then a guided tour is probably for you. The guided tour will tell you exactly what you're doing every day, tell you what time to have your luggage outside your hotel room, get you from Point A to B.

The downside: you give up your independence and are locked into a sort of "cookie cutter" formula of what to see in Australia.

The independent itinerary obvious;y offers you more freedom and tailors your trip to what you want to see and do.

As far as costs go, if you look at the itinerary of a guided tour, draw a line through everything that you're not interested in -- that will tell you if it's right for you! If you end up with 4 things of interest, then it's probably not for you!

I don't know where you're from in the US, but suggest that you go to www.australia.com and find a local Premier Aussie Specialist. They will be able to determine which direction to steer you to. Go to "Plan Your Trip" and scroll down to "Find an Agent".

Hope this is helpful!


Certified Aussie Specialist
wlzmatilida is offline  
Aug 13th, 2005, 06:42 PM
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Thanks Neil_Oz & wlzmatilida,
In answer to some of your questions: yes, this is our first and probably only trip to Aust. I bought an Aust. Eyewitness book and not sure what I saw in Brisbane that made me think we'd go there, but that is still up in the air. Maybe because it was a little less populated. My husband hates large cities. Adelaide had the Ayers house, home of the guy who the Rock was named after, I thought we'd enjoy that. I love to photograph wildlife, so that might be what intrigued me about KI.
We had thought about NZ, but just decided we'd be trying to fit too much in our 15-20 days and it has always been both our dreams to go to Aust, so think that's where we should go the whole time. What does Tasmania offer? I guess I should look in my Eyewitness book.
As for driving, my husband is a rural mail carrier with a right-hand drive vehicle, so he's used to that. In '03, we spent 10 days in Ireland and he did all the driving and no problems.
Our best friends travel all over the world, about 5+ trips a year and they always go on guided tours, mostly using Grand Circle or OAT.
We have checked aust.com, great web site. I guess it's just all so overwhelming, it's just going to take some research and patience.
Are B&Bs cheaper and/or better than hotels? Agree with wlzmatilida about the guides, we are afraid of being stuck with something we don't want to do or some obnoxious traveler that might make the trip miserable. Our friends have had a few trips like that and they talk more about the jerks on the trip than they do the trip itself!
We are from Kansas, we have traveled a lot, but all in the US, expect for Canada, Ireland & Bahama's, which we made all of our own plans for those 3 trips. I'll try "Plan Your Trip". Good idea, I forgot about them.
Thanks again.
Paytons_Grandma is offline  
Aug 13th, 2005, 09:21 PM
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I missed the fact that you'll have up to 20 days, Alana - that makes a difference. But with due apologies to Brisbane I'd still substitute Sydney. Brisbane and Adelaide are certainly smaller (a million or so people) but cities nonetheless, and Sydney has so much more to offer. Maybe your husband will feel differently as he relaxes on the outer deck of the Manly ferry as it heads down the spectacular harbour on a warm, sunny autumn day.

Brisbane has a slower pace, but that's more to do with climate than size.

Somewhere here there's a thread mentioning a wildlife-spotting guided tour in the Atherton Tablelands near Cairns.

If you've driven in Ireland you won;t have a problem in Tasmania. Check this trip report: http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...t=0&dirtyBit=1

B&Bs aren't a cheap alternative to hotels in Australia, but of course most offer a more user-friendly experience. Many posters have raved about the Lilybank B&B in Cairns - you might like to check that one out.

PS: I guess you won't want to hear that these days Ayers Rock is known by its Aboriginal name, Uluru...
Neil_Oz is offline  
Aug 14th, 2005, 08:10 AM
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Thanks Neil,
Yes I know the rock is now Uluru, just a hard habit to break. I'm getting my book back out and studying more on Sydney right now. We have a new grandaughter, 2 mo. old and her name is Sidney Ayers, guess I should go to both sites/cities! ha The ferry ride sounds wonderful, I'll check it out. Thanks again. You've been very helpful.
Paytons_Grandma is offline  
Aug 15th, 2005, 05:37 AM
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I found Australia to be an easy country to self-tour, but opted to add a few guided tours (several day tours and a few extended day tours) in specific areas when I wanted to hit as many sites as possible. I waited until I arrived in the area to schedule the day tours.

If you end up in Sydney, try averting your husband's dislike for cities by planning some things that are out of the city centre...Manly (the ferry ride really is relaxing), Watson's Bay (you can also take the ferry, but it has a limited schedule) and the Blue Mountains are good ideas (maybe consider staying in those areas).

A tour of the city could make it easier to to see the city without having to think about the fact that you are in a city. Darling Harbour, The Rocks and Circular Quay are all built with the tourist in mind, so they are very easy to get around even though they are quite busy.

If you self-drive and have a pretty good idea of where you want to go, I'd suggest getting a copy of Lonely Planet (or Fodors or Frommers) and reading up on those areas. Using those guides to help plan things like routes and where to stay better than the Eye Witness Guides which is perfect for giving you a taste of what is out there.

Good luck.
yesiree100 is offline  
Aug 16th, 2005, 03:10 PM
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I have a feeling there were not many tourists around when The Rocks area was established in Sydney!
prue is offline  
Aug 16th, 2005, 03:48 PM
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prue, those 1788 tourists never stopped whingeing. The accommodation, the food, the service, the locals, the day tours, even the weather - nothing was good enough. Not to mention the problems with their return bookings.
Neil_Oz is offline  
Aug 16th, 2005, 07:38 PM
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Ok, we've done some more research and have found some "safari" tours from Alice Springs to Uluru & all around the area, sleeping in tents, some hiking, camel rides, etc. We think it sounds wonderful. Anyone have any experience with those and any groups to recommend?
I think we've definitely decided to rent a car and do some driving from place to place, it's a great way to see so much and we enjoy traveling by car anyway. We will have to fly from some areas, we don't want to spend ALL of our time in a car.
Thanks for your input so far.
Paytons_Grandma is offline  
Aug 17th, 2005, 01:42 PM
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as you stated in your other post, Sahara Outback is a great company. They are winners of several awards and I can only recommend them. I have done the 3-day and the 5-day tour.
If you have 5 days, I can highly recommend that longer tour. It takes you around the Western MacDonnell Ranges to places not many people visit.
But the 3-day tour is great too and perfect for the traveller with less time.
One recommendation (sounds scary at first but is worth a try) to you: Do NOT sleep in the tent. Try to sleep at least one night out under the stars. This is an experience you won't forget!!!!!!!!!
Hope you will have a great trip!!!
myaustralia is offline  
Aug 17th, 2005, 06:04 PM
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I had already decided I'd sleep outside at least part of a night. The only thing that scares me is snakes. Are there a lot of them around that area?
Paytons_Grandma is offline  
Aug 19th, 2005, 03:13 PM
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Australia has tons of snakes and other crawly insects and things, but on all my trips all over Australia, I have NEVER encountered one. You will get a swag (Aussie Bushbed), you zip it up and you are save. They wouldn't let you do it if it wasn't safe. So, don't worry about that!
But it is an experience you will never forget.

PS: Tie your sneakers together and to something otherwise the Dingoes might get them!
myaustralia is offline  
Aug 19th, 2005, 09:44 PM
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If you're in Cairnes don't miss the Sky Rail tour
You take the train from Cairnes central to Kurranda, spend a few hours at the markets, have a beaut feed, then ride back on the Gondola over the rain forest. THe gondola ride is about 9km. I think it's the longest in the world, or certainly it's right up there. It is just an absolutely fabulous trip.
Unless you are really into snorkling, give the trip to the dive platform on the outer reef a miss. It was the most expensive tour we did, and the most disapointing. (The buffet was great, however) On the other hand, the tour to Green island is great. You can snorkle off the beach if you want to, and you can walk around the island in half an hour.

Don't be put off going to Brisbane. The city isn't much, but Surfers (1 hour south) and the Sunshine Coast (1 hour north) are well worth a visit.

Apartment range from about A$150 per night upwards for something really nice. Try the Paradise Centre, or Chevron Towers in Surfers, and the Peninsula or the Outrigger in Mooloolooba.

The Eumundi Markets are worth a look. Saturday and Wednesday from 7.30am to Noon. Eumundi is close to Noosa. Noosa is getting a bit over developed, as is Surfers. Mooloolooba and Broadbeach are probably better options if you don't like crowds.

If you want a bit of aussie history, drive through Towoomba and vist Jendarien Station. THis used to be a large sheep station, the size of a couple of small countries. Now it's just a hundred or so acres around the old homestead. THere are still the old station buildings, including a huge wool shed, where they used to shear the sheep. There are 90 stands(shearing positions). If you don't know much about sheep or farming this mightn't mean much, but it's HUGE.

Hope this is some help, Also hope I haven't terminally confused you.

One other tip. Avoid Surfers in August. It's full of obnoxious people. Sorry I can't be more explicit.

The trip on the Ghan from Adelaide to Alice Springs, (or now to Darwin) is a great experience. You can actually catch the train from Sydney if you don't want to drive. It's a very relaxing way to see the country.

Australia has some absolutely marvelous scenery and places, but there is lots of nothing much in between. You are better to pick the places you want to see and fly between them, hiring a car at each place to explore the local area.

The Katherine gorge is great. Do the helicopter flight over, and into it.

Still up the top end, The Undara lava Tubes are interesting. THese are on the west the Cape York Peninsula.
vbca is offline  
Aug 20th, 2005, 06:27 AM
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What are your plans for the 4 days in Cairns? Reef? Rainforest? Outback?

Skyrail? Yes for the ride, no if you want a real rainforest experience. If you want to get a real rainforest experience, you should do the Daintree and Cape Tribulation NP. It is a beautiful area with prestine forest. You can do different tours from the big touristy ones to the small, private and personalised ones. Depending on what you want to do and what your interests are.

In regards to the reef, I agree with prevous post, there are better trips than the big Quicksilver boat to the pontoon, however it depends on what you are planning to do out on the reef (snorkelling, diving or just glass-bottom boat). Also depends on the weather.
Green Island? You can do much better. The corals are not the best no more and Green Island can get quite busy. The Outer Reef is the better reef and if you want to go on a small island, I would rather recommend Low Isles off Port Douglas. No hotels, restaurants or so on the island, just an old light house. Really nice place to relax and enjoy a snorkel trip from the beach.
But - to me - the better snorkelling/diving is on the Outer Reef, you have more different varieties of corals out there.
myaustralia is offline  
Aug 20th, 2005, 09:17 AM
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We are so totally in awe of what we want to do, there is so much. My lifelong dream has been to snorkel or dive the great Barrier Reef. I am not a diver, but my husband saw something on a web site that you can go with someone, not very deep and just a few hours training. I don't remember exact details. I love snorkeling, he hates water, but he thinks I should do one or the other, he knows he'd never hear the end of it if I was there and didn't.
We have definitely been looking at Daintree and/or Cape Trib. NP. Skyrail sounds fun, even if it would be just for the ride.
From what we've seen on the internet, car rental is expensive and even more so if we get the car in one town and leave the car in another, they have some kind of "return" or dropoff fee or something (forget exactly what Tom called it). What we need to know is some "accurate" drive times. We can determine how many miles places are, but just like in Ireland, we'd plan for 3 hours and in reality it would take us 4 hours. Right now, we are tentatively thinking about driving from Alice Springs to Adelaide. The rest of the areas would be by plane.
Thanks for all your help and suggestions. "Myaustralia", you have been extra helpful!
Paytons_Grandma is offline  
Aug 20th, 2005, 12:45 PM
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Hi Alana

what your husband is looking for is called "Introductory Diving". You do not need any experience to do it. They will teach you everything on board.
I can only recommend you boats out of Port Douglas, there are the Poseidon and Calypso I would highly recommend for diving and snorkelling. They are smaller operators (max around 50 people) visiting 2-3 different reefs during the day. If you want to do snorkelling only, I would highly recommend the Wavelength boat. Only around 30 people to 3 different reefs in a day. They specialize in snorkelling only.
For the Daintree I would highly recommend Pete from Daintree-Specialised-Tours. He offers great, fun and educational charters into the Daintree/Cape Tribulation NP. If you are into these Outdoor kind of things - this is the trip you definitely wanna take. You will love it. He can put a perfect itinerary together for you.
Driving Alice to Adelaide is a loooooong drive through the middle of nowhere. Don't get me wrong, I love the Outback, but it can get pretty boring if you do that for hours on end. Any particular reason why you wanna drive that long distance?
myaustralia is offline  
Aug 20th, 2005, 12:55 PM
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You're right, car rental in Aus is quite expensive. You can get quite cheap deals from smaller local companies, but they usually don't have airport offices, and probably would not allow you to drop off in a different city. They also tend to be very uptight about minor damage to the car. My daughter was stung AU$600 for an almost invisible stone chip in the bonnet, which she can't remember happening, and was probably there when they picked up the car. If you go with a cheepo make sure you do a walk around with the staff and mark even the smallest defect on a plan.
Make sure your travel insurance covers the excess on your rental car. They charge up to $3000 excess, or about $25 per day for a waiver. In the top end, and the outback the excess is even higher. Probably reflects the cost of recovering the vehical from out back of Bourke.
You will probably get the best deals by hiring your rental before you leave home, You can do this on the internet, have a look at the Hertz, Avis, Budget, or Thrifty web sites.
Driving in Australia is really easy, apart from you being on the wrong side of the road. The drivers are mostly very courtious, unless you do something REALLY silly. Generally the roads are excellent, and you will be able to maintain a high average speed. Most roads are 100kph, some motorways up to 110kph. no speed restrictions on the open road in the NT.
Alice Springs to Adelaide is a good drive. Have a stop in Coober Pedy & look for Opals. You could spend a night in the underground hotel, quite an experience. Lots of good wine regions around Adelaide, worth a couple of days.

vbca is offline  
Aug 21st, 2005, 08:27 PM
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Even though 15-20 days sounds like a lot, it isn't enough to see everything -- why waste time (days, not hours) driving long distances across the desert? I'd suggest flying between the locations you've listed, except for Uluru/Alice. The Ghan might be nice, too, if you're interested in the areas it travels thru.

We were there for 30 days last October. We visited Uluru, Alice, Cairns, Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney. I wish we had rented a car for Uluru and Alice (approx 5 hrs between the two), but we got along without one. There are shuttles (not free!) to Uluru and Kata Tjuta from the hotels in Yulara.

In Cairns we rented a car for one day and visited the Cairns Zoo and Tjakupai. If you take guided tours (Cape Trib, Great Barrier Reef) they'll pick you up at the hotel. Downtown Cairns is easily walkable. This area is great for wildlife, and tropical to boot!

Brisbane is beautiful, but I'd consider a car there as well. We didn't have much time there, but we would have needed a car if we did. Again, as tempting as it seems to drive down the coast (Cairns/Brisbane or Brisbane/Sydney), the drive time seems quite long.

I also would not miss Sydney. yesiree100's recommendations of Manly, Watson's Bay and The Blue Mountains (we missed those, but we'll go back) might appease your husband. You can see most of the "iconic" sights in Sydney in one day (we took 7!)if you schedule it right. I would not rent a car to drive around Sydney! Even the Blue Mountains are easy to reach by train.

As far as a tour vs. on your own, I think the costs will be fairly similar -- you'll spend as much as your (subconcious) budget will allow. On a guided tour, you only see what the tour sees. On your own, you may end up in a not-so-nice area (some people like the adventure!). An independent tour (booked with the help of an agent) will have hotels and airfare, but you experience everything on your own. All have plusses and minuses. If you are comfortable with last-minute arrangements and are flexible with your hotel requirements, there are good deals to be had at wotif.com.
stormytrooper is offline  
Aug 22nd, 2005, 12:29 AM
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Paytons_Grandma, myaustralia is correct stating that anyone can do an introductory dive, well almost anyone, you will be required to answer questions regarding medical history on board, its a Queensland Dive regulation. Even introductory diving won't be permitted if you suffer or have suffered from high blood pressure, asthma, diabetes and a couple of other ailments which escape me at the moment.

There is absolutely no need to snorkel or dive from a metal pontoon, the one in above posting I think is referring to Quicksilver out of Port Douglas, Great Adventures, Sunlover and Reef Magic out of Cairns have them too. For snorkelling only (out of Port Douglas, although they do pick up in Cairns), totally agree with myaustralia's comments on Wavelength and Pete Baxendell's trip.

Personally I far prefer snorkelling from a sand cay than a metal pontoon or off the side of a boat - out of Cairns the cays visited on a day trips are Ocean Spirit I to Michaelmas Cay which is also a seabird sanctuary; Ocean Spirit II to Upolo Cay and Oyster Reef; Passions of Paradise to Upolo Cay - these are just a few, which offer a far better snorkelling experience than Green Island, where unfortunately coral is degraded.
pat_woolford is offline  
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