By John Pedler
Published: Tuesday, December 21, 2021
Updated: January 18, 2022 at 2:33 pm
Through circumstance, our wonderful island home has become our favourite travel destination. To get the most out of an Aussie holiday, an experienced guide can be an invaluable companion.
COVID-19 has impacted just about everything we do. Shopping, schooling, working, pubbing – all have been affected, and overseas travel plans have been seriously interrupted. Through all this disruption, there have been some interesting and occasionally unexpected outcomes. With most international adventures off the table, we’ve fallen head-over-hills in love with our own magnificent country.
This flourishing romance has led to accommodation shortages at many popular destinations, and finding a hire car in the busy season can be like finding a frog cake in Brisbane.
Thankfully, there’s a sure-fire way to sail over those hurdles. With a focus on safety, comfort and unique experiences, modern guided tours reach into all corners of the country. And with your digs and transport included, much of the work is taken out of planning your next great holiday.
Take two on tours
For the independent travellers among us, thoughts of organised tours may elicit outdated images of packed coaches and flag waving guides, briskly leading their tribe from one attraction to the next: “On your right is Cairns – we’ll be here for 20 minutes.”
But apart from the heroic persistence of the mullet as a hairstyle, much has changed over the past 20 years. Aware that some travellers have specific interests, while others prefer smaller groups or more immersive experiences, tour companies today offer a diverse range of options.
When it comes to keeping guests healthy, the rules of the game have significantly changed for all sectors of the tourism industry. Just ask Jason Simpson from The Travel Corporation – the operator of 40 travel brands including AAT Kings, Contiki and Trafalgar Tours.
“Our drivers are trained with the latest hygiene protocols and will clean and disinfect handrails, door handles, tables, seats, air-conditioning filters and overhead lockers on a daily basis,” Jason says.
“We only use hotels, restaurants, suppliers and venues that take the health and wellbeing of our guests as seriously as we do.”
This approach is being adopted by all responsible tour companies, so whether it’s an overnighter on the Great Barrier Reef, a food and wine expedition, or an extended journey into the outback, your health and safety is their main concern. With this in mind, it’s time to get acquainted with some exceptional Aussie tours that highlight what’s truly unique about our home turf.
Kimberley Complete tour — For the wild at heart
The rugged Kimberley in northern Western Australia was once only accessible to hardcore off-road travellers, prepared to rough it in bush camps and eat whatever was in that can that lost its label. These days, comfortable 4WD coaches take small groups deep into this remote wilderness area, so everyone can experience nature’s stunning handiwork.
With a maximum group size of 22, APT’s Kimberley Complete tour takes in some of the more difficult-to-reach attractions, like the massive sandstone domes and spectacular gorges of the Bungle Bungle Range and the thundering cascades of Mitchell Falls. Experience the thrill of wading – torch in hand – along Dimalurru (Tunnel Creek), a waterway that has burrowed a 750m-long tunnel through the Napier Range.
Rest assured, there’ll be no camping in the long grass or canned food mystery meals on this outback adventure. Top-notch accommodation includes two nights’ glamping at the Mitchell Falls Wilderness Lodge, complete with gourmet meals and a lounge bar. Another night is spent in luxury safari-style tents at Emma Gorge Resort on the vast El Questro Station. Nestled beneath the lofty escarpment of the Cockburn Range, the resort is only 1.6km from the cooling waters of Emma Gorge’s waterhole. If that’s too far, just grab a drink from the verandah bar and plonk yourself beside the resort pool.
Outback Adventure — For intrepid travellers
Travel legend AAT Kings runs a variety of trips throughout Australia, including the popular Outback Adventure. Leaving from Adelaide, the itinerary passes through the Flinders Ranges and Central Australia, and then heads north to Katherine, Kakadu and Darwin. It’s a great mix of the outback’s biggest hits and the iconic features of the tropical Top End. You’ll see the mighty bluffs of Wilpena Pound and spend a night in the other-worldly opal mining town of Coober Pedy, where many of the residents live in underground dwellings called dugouts.
Your first glimpse of Uluru, towering above the red desert dunes, will linger in your memory forever, and a cruise between the sheer cliffs of Katherine Gorge is the ideal way to experience its timeless beauty. For a wildlife fix, don’t miss the Yellow Water Cruise in Kakadu National Park, home to majestic jabirus, lily pad-hopping jacanas and toothy crocs.
During the peak tourist season, independent travellers can struggle to find a room in places like Alice Springs, but tour companies secure their accommodation allotments two to three years ahead. This means your rooms have been booked even before you visit your travel agent. Not counting Adelaide, the Outback Adventure comprises 10 individual accommodation establishments. Booking all the accommodation for an itinerary like this would be a time-consuming undertaking for the independent traveller, but on a tour, the job’s done for you.
Overnight reef suite experience — For marine marvellers
Operators of domestic cruises – the guided tours of the sea – have embraced the changing needs of their guests by offering a broader range of local trips, including Cruise Whitsunday’s Overnight Reef Suite Experience. A morning cruise through the Whitsundays is just a teaser for the thrills to come. Upon arrival at Hardy Reef pontoon, 74km offshore, enjoy a guided snorkelling tour of the Great Barrier Reef or drift over the colourful marine life aboard a semi-submersible. All that sunshine making you sleepy? Just relax on the deck with a book and a bevy.
Then, when the day-trippers head back to shore, you’ll settle into your underwater suite with floor-to-ceiling windows. After dinner under the stars on the upper deck, you’re free to chat with the other guests about your good fortune, or head back to your room and see what your fishy neighbours are up to. Beer, wine and meals are all included. The next morning, the reef is yours to enjoy before you return to Airlie Beach in the afternoon.
Tastes of Tasmania — For fans of food and wine
The often-rowdy wine tours of the ’80s have given way to more sophisticated food and wine expeditions. These days, there’s a greater interest in the preparation and provenance of our food and drink.
Travelling with a maximum of 22 guests, Inspiring Journeys’ seven-day Tastes of Tasmania gastronomical adventure follows a paddock to plate theme, blended with lashings of Tassie’s stunning scenery. First exploring Hobart and surrounds, the tour then wanders up the gorgeous East Coast, en route to Launceston. There are sightseeing highlights aplenty, including a morning among the colourful market stalls and artisans of historic Salamanca Place, a visit to the quirky Mona gallery, and a trip to Freycinet National Park and its world-famous Wineglass Bay.
Of course, there’s also plenty of eating and drinking. Sample cider in the Huon Valley, tuck into local produce at some of the region’s coolest eateries, and enjoy scallops, oysters and Tassie wines on the East Coast. Smoked salmon, more wine, hazelnuts, chocolate-dipped raspberries and the delights of the Tasmanian Gourmet Sauce Company are among the treats on offer in and around Launceston. The produce available on any given trip is seasonal, but Tassie can turn out quality produce pretty much year-round.
Time to tour
Guided tours remove all the hassle of organising accommodation and transport, and most or all meals are provided. Local knowledge ensures a quality itinerary, and you’ll get to meet like-minded travellers. Plus, with a greater emphasis on the health and wellbeing of guests, it’s unlikely we’ll ever encounter another rogue diner buried elbow deep in the buffet.
Important note: T&Cs apply, available from RAA. Border restrictions and COVID-19 vaccination requirements for travellers are being regularly updated. Be sure to check with the relevant interstate authorities about the current regulations, travel restrictions, or COVID-19 related questions before booking your trip. If you have any additional questions about any packages, travel, or an existing booking, please contact your travel consultant.