Need help with dream Australian vacation

Mar 25th, 2008, 09:27 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Mar 2008
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Need help with dream Australian vacation

Ever since my wife was a little girl, she has dreamed of seeing Australia. So on our wedding day (23 years ago) I promised her that if she could put up with me for 25 years, she deserves to go. So I have 2 years to plan the perfect vacation for her and I would like some help and suggestions. I'm leaning towards a 3 week escorted land tour. There are hundrens of them available provided by dozens of tour companies on the 'Net so I'm looking for suggestions from anyone who have been on one and any providers to look into. Plus an escorted tour is not written in stone so I open to any and all recommendations and all will be greatly appreciated.
Scudam is offline  
Mar 25th, 2008, 10:03 AM
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Consider arriving a few days before the tour and leaving a few days after the tour is over to do a few things alone together, if going with an escorted tour.

Do you want hot or cold weather? What parts of Australia do you want to go to. Great Barrier Reef? Sydney. How about including New Zealand.

Avoid Christmas/New Year's as the airfares double and even triple if you can.

Americans drive on the right side of the road but Australians drive on the left. Do you feel comfortable with that? Public transportation is pretty good there. Do you feel comfortable using it?

If you are a "control freak" (everything has to be done your way) you may want to avoid a tour. Australia is pretty easy to do on one's own--They do speak English.
wally34949 is offline  
Mar 25th, 2008, 10:33 AM
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Since you have two years to plan this trip, I suggest you consider doing it on your own as opposed to doing an organized tour. You've got plenty of time to research locations, transportation, accomodations, things to see and do, etc. and it's so easy to do with a good guidebook and the Internet. That way you can tailor your trip to the sorts of things you and wife like to see and do. Have fun planning this trip and remember that the only "must do" is what YOU want to do.
longhorn55 is offline  
Mar 25th, 2008, 10:52 AM
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Thnaks guys for the suggestions. As for location I was was thinking of the east coast and central Australia, from the north shore to the south. As for NZ, I don't think so. This most likely be our one and only trip and my wife has her heart set on Australia. Out 25 anniv will be in 2010 and our daughter will be graduating college that year so May is out of the question, which happens to be the month we got married. Any other month is open. Is there any month that would give the best shot of good weather throughout Australia? I have given much thought of planning our own trip. I'm just scared that I would mess things up and I don't want to ruin it for her. I would think that covering such a wide area, many different means of transportation would be needed which I thught would greatly increase the cost of the vacation. That's why I thought of an escorted tour. I don't want to spend the entire vacation driving from place to place. I would rather let somebody else do that. Any ideas in that area? Thanks for everything guys.
Scudam is offline  
Mar 25th, 2008, 11:12 AM
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I agree with longhorn in planning it yourself. It will also be waaaaay less expensive. That's not to say that you shouldn't take a tour in certain areas where you are visiting, but to go to an agency and say, "I need an Australian trip planned for X amount of days", you will pay much more.

I spent about6-8 months planning our trip (we got back last Friday) and I found that I probably should have started earlier, or at least been more decisive so that I could have booked the airfare that I wanted at better prices ahead of time. Some places won't let you book more than a year in advance, so my advice to you is to spend the next year reasearching and coming up with a waffling! And then a year before hand, start booking.

One piece of advice that I can give you if you decide to do this yourself, is be patient with emails and getting your questions answered. I am not insulting the Oz way, so please no flaming, but my experience consistenly showed that any emails that I sent with 2 or 3 questions were returned with maybe 1 answered. It proved to be very frustrating to have to send 2-3 emails to get ALL the information that I was originally asking. And it didn't matter if it was the Koala Sanctuary or Sails in the Desert hotel, the lack of completed answers was everywhere!

I should also mention that my husband thought all my work was crazy and that we should just go to a travel agency. So, we took all our research (Plan A, Plan B, and a Plan C) and had the travel agent price it out. Each plan came back (on average) 4 thousand dollars MORE than if I just did it myself. It wasn't even the 'paying for the expertise' or 'paying for their time'...I DID the research, I had the flight numbers, I had the was just a matter for the agent to plug them in, but what happened was, alot of the hotels didn't pass on the savings to the Travel Agent as they would to me...for example, I got a quote for Hayman island for X amount of dollars which, in speaking with them directly, included a free night, breakfast and the launch from Hamilton Island. When the travel agent called their OZ agency (I was sitting infront of her) no breakfast was included, they charged 400.00/person for the launch, and there was no free night. And this just represents 5 days out of 14, so you can imagine how much I saved doing it myself overall.

I think you can do a fine have already chosen to start at a great starting place...HERE!

Good luck and happy anniversary!
anita63 is offline  
Mar 25th, 2008, 01:14 PM
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As a fair dinkum Aussie I tend to agree with the previous posters and suggest you devise your own itinerary. Firstly I think it is best to identify the "must see" areas of this vast Continent. You will get many opinions, but I would suggest the Great Barrier Reef and environs, The Outback, the Coastal areas and of course our wonderful flora and fauna. The major cities are also exciting and should not be missed.Certainly keep it to the East Coast and the Centre as the West deserves a journey of its own. The distances are vast and flying is the best option unless you have plenty of time available. As a rough Itinerary I would start with Sydney, head north for Cairns and the GBR then Darwin and Kakadu, south to Uluru, futher south to Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road across to Tasmania and depart Melbourne. Now this might sound daunting, but you have plenty of time to research and individual tour operators at the different destinations can show you all the sights if you don't wish to drive. Believe me you would have a wonderful experience. Qantas Aussie passes are an economical way to cover the distances.
DownUnder is offline  
Mar 25th, 2008, 01:31 PM
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The best time of the year to travel? March/April or October/November.
DownUnder is offline  
Mar 25th, 2008, 01:50 PM
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DownUnder mentioned the Qantas Airpass and if you are unfamiliar with it, you should definitely check it out. Basically, for one price you get airfare from LA to either Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane and return from either of those cities. So, you could fly into Sydney and out of Melbourne. It also includes 3 flights within the country. The price of the Airpass depends on what regions within Australia you travel on your internal flights. On our last trip to Australia, we used the Airpass to travel from LA-Brisbane-Cairns-Darwin-Sydney-LA. It worked beautifully! Everything you need to know about the Airpass can be found at
longhorn55 is offline  
Mar 25th, 2008, 02:00 PM
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You haven't said whether this trip is a surprise for your wife. If it's not, why don't you ask her ?! Why has she been so enthralled by Australia since her childhood - the scenery, wildlife, beaches, history, what? That would help you to plan your activities and where you should visit. In two years time you can read some guide books, look at maps, plan routes, search the internet and ask questions here. Like Anita63, while I loved my travel agent, I do a much better job for less. We will celebrate our 20th in 2010 on the Barrier Reef - and if anyone offered me an escorted tour let alone a three week one, I would shoot them. Different strokes and all that, but I'm certain with this amount of time you can come up with something spectacular!
oliverandharry is offline  
Mar 25th, 2008, 02:54 PM
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Scudam- I am in the midst of planning my dream vacation to Australia for January 2009.
Let me know if you want me to send you my itinerary.

If you have the time, doing it on your own is so much more cost effective (and more exciting).
And, it is 100% doable.

Have fun!!!
amsimon is offline  
Mar 25th, 2008, 03:14 PM
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Am in the process of planning trip in Sept/Oct. Used a travel agent for basic planning and paid $100 plan to go fee. Received info on 9itinerary, flights, hotels, a couple of tours. Could not help checking quotes, and in most cases cost is less if you do it yourself, particularly flights in Australia. Was quoted cost of 3x more for flights than if booked on my own. Needless to say, booked on my own. You can book with Qantas on the phone for $15.

We are going on our own, and booking tours in certain areas.

Reading the posts here has been really helpful.
foxf1 is offline  
Mar 25th, 2008, 03:56 PM
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Scudam, I wouldn't worry that you'll mess it up if you do your own thing. If I can use an analogy, our first big trip after raising a family was in the reverse direction, 6 weeks in the US. We were not experienced travellers, and hadn't even driven on the "wrong side", but it all worked out pretty well.

This was in 1996, when the resources available on the Net weren't anything like as extensive as they are now (no Fodors site either), so we used a travel agent to book hotels in three cities and winged it the rest of the time. We also pre-booked our first two rental cars, and that was about it. We did however collect tour brochures and wrote away for state tourist booklets etc. and used this material to put together our own itineraries. This helps to ensure that you don't miss anything you really should see.

As it happens our agent, a branch of Thomas Cook, was pretty hopeless - for example, with a month's notice they told us that there was "no accommodation in NYC". This simply meant that the Cook hotel list was booked out. Faced with this absurd statement I found a US booking service on the Net, phoned them and got a good deal within minutes - a valuable lesson learned there.

Apart from minor glitches, we had no problems and found America an easy to navigate and friendly destination. I'm sure you'll find that the converse applies.

Unfortunately the above TA experience isn't uncommon - if they can't sell you something off a brochure they're not too interested. If you use an agent you need one with Australia-specific expertise who's prepared to tailor a package that might or might not include escorted tours. You can contact your local specialist via the official tourism site Don't forget also that every state and region in Australia has tourism websites that provide a mound of information and recommendations.

My advice, it's never too early to start planning. I'd start with a spreadsheet showing a tentative itinerary (which can be varied as you find out more) and use it as a checklist, with columns for hotel and transport names, bookings, costs etc. Make a list of useful websites, starting with...

Domestic airlines -

Discount hotel bookings -

Neil_Oz is offline  
Mar 25th, 2008, 04:46 PM
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What a sweet husband! Here's my two cents--put the words trip report in the search engine on this site and read the ones that interest you. You'll find lots and lots of places you just HAVE to go to! Also, check out this book at your library: AAA spiral guide Australia. It has highlights of different regions and help you plan what you really want to do. Thirdly, I suggest you sit down with your wife and decide what priorities you want to place on where you want to go. Australia is a big, big country and you don't want to waste your precious time sitting in airports and travelling. Also, check out the itineraries of the tours that sound good and then do it on your own. Australia is soooo easy to get around on your own (if you aren't afraid of driving on the left--which is easy there, they don't have much traffic except in the cities where you won't want a car, anyway.) However, don't make the mistake we almost made of wanting to fly here, there and everywhere. Focus your attention on fewer places (although they ALL sound FABULOUS and it is quite difficult to XX anything out) and you will have the time of your life in a wonderful country. We went in 2004 and went to Sydney (with a side trip to the Blue Mountains and Jenolan Caves); Uluru for 3 nights; Kakadu NP for 3 nights; Cairns and Port Douglas; and back to Sydney. that was 3 weeks. This past October we went for 5 weeks: south of Sydney in Narooma, Whitsundays, and Cairns area including Yungaburra, Chillagoe, Cooktown, Laura and Port Douglas and 3 days on a liveaboard snorkel boat (the Spirit of Freedom) and 5 days in Sydney. If you have lots of FF miles, start calling Qantas 355 days ahead of time and you might be able to score 1st class seats if you call frequently. Now THAT would be a great 25th extra!
Happy planning,
Sally in Seattle
SnRSeattle is offline  
Mar 26th, 2008, 12:08 AM
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Hello Sudam,

Ivory palms resort is perfect for you and your wife.

Last year we were there with my family and friends and i cant wait to be back on that resort.

There website is

Actually the place is better than what they are saying on the website itself.

Have great vacation!

George03 is offline  
Mar 26th, 2008, 02:48 AM
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What a special trip it's going to be! Have to say agree with pretty much all who have posted so far.

Do your own thing is best, cos it's easy to fly, and there are so many offerings by way of organised trips from different centres.

You must decide where you want to spend the most time, and that is up to you and your interests. June is a brilliant time for the Centre and the Top End, so-so for Northern Qld (Cairns). Sydney is wonderful any time. June misses the wonderful autumnal light but is a better bet than July/August.

Come in June - Sydney, Cairns, Darwin, Alice, Sydney in that order.

afterall is offline  
Mar 26th, 2008, 08:26 AM
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Wow, the responses has been overwhellming. Thank you all so very much. When my wife's grandfather retired, he traveled the world and wrote in his journal of his trips. And what he wrote of Australia made a major impression on my wife. She knows all about the vacation as we talk about it often. Everything we have done over the past 23 years have been for our kids. With my son graduating college this year and my daughter graduating in 2 more years, this vacation will be the first thing we will be doing for ourselves. I have worked a second job for over a year to help us save some money for this vacation.
All of you have convinced me to plan this vacation on my own. I thought planning things 2 years in advance might be pushing things too much but from what I've read from everyone I guess it's not. One last question, once we have an itinerary, how far in advance should I book things? I assume I do everything over the Internet? Again, thanks for all of your help and suggestions. We thought of going sometime mid March to mid April. I would greatly appreciate suggested itineraries and places to see. Thanks again everyone
Scudam is offline  
Mar 26th, 2008, 10:05 AM
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Glad to hear that you have decided to plan the trip yourself, Scudam! I just returned from a three-week trip (March 1 to 21) that my friend and I organized entirely on our own, relying on forums like this and various guide books. We couldn't have been more pleased with the way everything turned out. Planning is easy, and fun!

I booked everything online. We flew between all destinations on the Aussie Air Pass (Qantas) and our itinerary was as follows:

Melbourne - 3 nights
Kangaroo Island - 2 nights
Adelaide - 1 night
Port Douglas - 5 nights
Uluru - 2 nights
Sydney - 5 nights (included day trip to the Blue Mountains)

We booked our hotels about six months in advance, but waited until we arrived at each destination to book most of our individual tours. This gave us more flexibility to plan things according to the weather, or our mood. There are so many tour operators and tourist-oriented businesses, we never missed out on doing something we wanted to do. In fact, we were often part of a very small group. Exceptions to this were Kangaroo Island, where we booked ahead for a two-day private tour and B&B stay; and Uluru, where we booked the Sounds of Silence dinner and a sunset camel ride about four months in advance.

We felt March was a good time to travel to Australia, even though we encountered a record-setting heatwave in Adelaide and record-setting rainfall in Port Douglas. The "wet season" in Port Douglas did not prevent us from enjoying everything the area has to offer - snorkeling at the reef, exploring the Daintree Rainforest, etc.
ARay is offline  
Mar 27th, 2008, 05:25 AM
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Scudam. I agree with everyone - - plan it yourself!! So what if you "mess up" a part of the trip. My experience has been that some of my best travel memories are the parts that get "messed up" because it creates an unknown.

The Australians are very friendly and helpful so if something doesn't go right, you just ask for help.
Bgale is offline  
Mar 27th, 2008, 09:05 AM
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Good for you! Nothing is worse than being bogged down by an escorted tours itinerary. One thing you'll find out is that pricing for flights and hotels usually don't get finalized till six months to a year out, so you have a lot of time to plan an itinerary. There are a lot of websites that specialize in non-escorted Australia vacations. is an example. Use their ideas or call them and have them do the legwork. They used to have an ultimate australia trip that included Sydney, Ayers Rock, and the great barrier reef. Since its your 25th anniversary you might want to look at Hayman Island or some other nice resort for a few nights as well. Good Luck!
ahasan is offline  
Mar 27th, 2008, 10:09 AM
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Australia is a big country with lots of wonderful places to see but beware it is not like the US as most of the people live in the big towns on the coast and unless you fly which takes time you will waste a lot of the holiday getting places.

I have lived there and visited for holidays 4 times in past 2 years. I would recommend Sydney, stay in centre hotel and use public transport about 5 days. Day trips to Blue Mountains and Wine country worth the effort.
Port Douglas 5 days, take escorted trip to rain forest and must visit GBR even if you do not dive, the snokerling is awesome.

Melbourne is very civilised and makes good exit airport. Alice Springs and Uluru is intresting.

Driving is easy in all areas. Do discuss what it is your Wife wants to see. Feel happy using the web and search for good deals. Enjoy.
carol2791 is offline  

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