Australia on a self-drive itinerary

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Normally, my wife, Patricia, and I do our own travel planning, relying heavily on the Internet and reading ITN. But a trip to an entire continent was something different, so we looked for ads in ITN for customized itineraries in Australia, reviewed various websites and selected Australia Travel Planning (4428 E. Willow Ave., Phoenix, AZ 85032; 800/830-8999, www.australian.com. The owners, Michael and Gayle, also run Tasmania Travel Planning [same address, phone]; visit www.tasmania.com).

We were attracted by their statement that they personally visited every accommodation and every activity they recommended.

We wanted to see the “real Australia,” not be lost in a sea of tourists. We explained our preferences to Gayle and Michael: self-drive the back roads but not more than 250 miles a day; see countryside rather than cities; stay in B&Bs or guest houses rather than hotels, and have time to stop and enjoy places. Deciding not to visit Ayers Rock, the Great Barrier Reef or Western Australia, we ended up spending our month in a series of 2-night stops between Tasmania in the south and Brisbane in the north.

For our trip, Feb. 17-March 15, 2006, the cost for the two of us, excluding international airfare, was $8,950. This included internal flights, airport/hotel taxis, 16 days’ car rental, accommodations, breakfasts at all B&Bs, three picnic lunches, Melbourne dinner tram, Sydney helicopter flight and sailboat trip, and tour guides for two full days and two half days.

The organization by Michael and Gayle was close to flawless. After we had agreed on our itinerary and paid for the trip, we were sent a very detailed, 40-page description of daily activities either planned or recommended plus vouchers for all prepaid activities and services (a helicopter flight over Sydney harbor, for example, or our taxi rides). Our arrival was expected at every place we stayed, and all of our vouchers were accepted without question.

We flew into Melbourne and used our voucher for a taxi ride to our apartment downtown. The driver told us he did not expect a tip!

We were surprised at how much we liked Melbourne — very lively, with an amazing mix of ethnic restaurants. For us, the highlights were a visit to Queen Victoria Market (everything from clothes to kangaroo steaks) and our gourmet dinner served on a tram as it toured the city. This dinner tram is always booked up weeks ahead.

From Melbourne we drove in our Budget rental car to Ballarat to visit Sovereign Hill, a re-created mining town from the gold rush of the mid-19th century, populated by artisans and “citizens” dressed in period costume.

We then found our way to Mene­nia (Mininera, Victoria, Australia; phone 03 5350 6536, fax 6591 or visit www.menenia.com.au), a bed-and-breakfast on a working sheep farm. Staying in a very comfortable cottage attached to the main house, we were the only guests. We would never have found this place if we had done our own planning, but it was just the kind of experience that we were looking for.

On a driving tour of rural Victoria, we enjoyed a picnic by a stream and a visit to a winery, where we bought a bottle of wine. It was here that we saw wild kangaroos for the first time — quite a thrill.

We drove the Great Ocean Road back to Melbourne for an afternoon flight to Hobart in Tasmania. Tasmania was probably our favorite of all that we saw of Australia. Hobart itself was small and friendly.

We stayed in a lovely old B&B, where we were met by John Roberts, a local man who took us on our own tour of the historic part of the town, all part of our custom package. John seemed to know every story about the history of Hobart and its people, and he was delightful company, so much so that we asked him to share a glass of wine with us and spent another hour happily chatting away. Just another special experience that we would not have found on our own.

The seafood is excellent in Hobart, with many choices of pubs or restaurants at reasonable prices, and strolling the market, held every Saturday, was a fascinating experience.

We visited Bonorong Nature Park, where we learned about kangaroos, wombats, Tasmanian devils, cockatoos and the inevitable koala, which we were able to stroke.

The day ended at Tynwald (New Norfolk, Tasmania; phone 03 6261 2667, fax 2040, www.tynwald tasmania.com), a glorious 18th-century house by the river in New Norfolk. Our room was charming, and our hosts were both gourmet chefs who thoroughly spoiled us. We enjoyed our stay here in lovely rolling countryside, relaxing as we watched a local cricket match and feeling excitement as we screamed up the Derwent River on a jet boat.

Tasmania was followed by Kangaroo Island and a stay at beautiful Seascape (Emu Bay; phone +61 8 8553 5199, www.seascape.ws) with its glorious ocean views, friendly hosts and interesting guests. A full-day tour of the island, just for us, focused on wildlife and nature, including walking amongst sea lions on the beach.

Our journey ended in Sydney and, despite our professed dislike for cities, we really enjoyed it. The Harbour Rocks Hotel (phone +61 2 8220 9999, fax 9998, www.harbourrocks.com.au) was very comfortable, just minutes’ walk from the Circular Quay, the Ferry Terminal and the Sydney Opera House

We had a wonderful afternoon sailing in Sydney Harbour, we had an excellent private tour of historic Sydney with a most pleasant guide, and we were thrilled with a flight over Sydney Harbour in a very small helicopter.

We flew back home to the States convinced that our first visit to Australia would not be our last.

DAVID SUTCLIFFE

The Villages, FL

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

Normally, my wife, Patricia, and I do our own travel planning, relying heavily on the Internet and reading ITN. But a trip to an entire continent was something different, so we looked for ads in ITN for customized itineraries in Australia, reviewed various websites and selected Australia Travel Planning (4428 E. Willow Ave., Phoenix, AZ 85032; 800/830-8999, www.australian.com. The owners, Michael and Gayle, also run Tasmania Travel Planning [same address, phone]; visit www.tasmania.com).

We were attracted by their statement that they personally visited every accommodation and every activity they recommended.

We wanted to see the “real Australia,” not be lost in a sea of tourists. We explained our preferences to Gayle and Michael: self-drive the back roads but not more than 250 miles a day; see countryside rather than cities; stay in B&Bs or guest houses rather than hotels, and have time to stop and enjoy places. Deciding not to visit Ayers Rock, the Great Barrier Reef or Western Australia, we ended up spending our month in a series of 2-night stops between Tasmania in the south and Brisbane in the north.

For our trip, Feb. 17-March 15, 2006, the cost for the two of us, excluding international airfare, was $8,950. This included internal flights, airport/hotel taxis, 16 days’ car rental, accommodations, breakfasts at all B&Bs, three picnic lunches, Melbourne dinner tram, Sydney helicopter flight and sailboat trip, and tour guides for two full days and two half days.

The organization by Michael and Gayle was close to flawless. After we had agreed on our itinerary and paid for the trip, we were sent a very detailed, 40-page description of daily activities either planned or recommended plus vouchers for all prepaid activities and services (a helicopter flight over Sydney harbor, for example, or our taxi rides). Our arrival was expected at every place we stayed, and all of our vouchers were accepted without question.

We flew into Melbourne and used our voucher for a taxi ride to our apartment downtown. The driver told us he did not expect a tip!

We were surprised at how much we liked Melbourne — very lively, with an amazing mix of ethnic restaurants. For us, the highlights were a visit to Queen Victoria Market (everything from clothes to kangaroo steaks) and our gourmet dinner served on a tram as it toured the city. This dinner tram is always booked up weeks ahead.

From Melbourne we drove in our Budget rental car to Ballarat to visit Sovereign Hill, a re-created mining town from the gold rush of the mid-19th century, populated by artisans and “citizens” dressed in period costume.

We then found our way to Mene­nia (Mininera, Victoria, Australia; phone 03 5350 6536, fax 6591 or visit www.menenia.com.au), a bed-and-breakfast on a working sheep farm. Staying in a very comfortable cottage attached to the main house, we were the only guests. We would never have found this place if we had done our own planning, but it was just the kind of experience that we were looking for.

On a driving tour of rural Victoria, we enjoyed a picnic by a stream and a visit to a winery, where we bought a bottle of wine. It was here that we saw wild kangaroos for the first time — quite a thrill.

We drove the Great Ocean Road back to Melbourne for an afternoon flight to Hobart in Tasmania. Tasmania was probably our favorite of all that we saw of Australia. Hobart itself was small and friendly.

We stayed in a lovely old B&B, where we were met by John Roberts, a local man who took us on our own tour of the historic part of the town, all part of our custom package. John seemed to know every story about the history of Hobart and its people, and he was delightful company, so much so that we asked him to share a glass of wine with us and spent another hour happily chatting away. Just another special experience that we would not have found on our own.

The seafood is excellent in Hobart, with many choices of pubs or restaurants at reasonable prices, and strolling the market, held every Saturday, was a fascinating experience.

We visited Bonorong Nature Park, where we learned about kangaroos, wombats, Tasmanian devils, cockatoos and the inevitable koala, which we were able to stroke.

The day ended at Tynwald (New Norfolk, Tasmania; phone 03 6261 2667, fax 2040, www.tynwald tasmania.com), a glorious 18th-century house by the river in New Norfolk. Our room was charming, and our hosts were both gourmet chefs who thoroughly spoiled us. We enjoyed our stay here in lovely rolling countryside, relaxing as we watched a local cricket match and feeling excitement as we screamed up the Derwent River on a jet boat.

Tasmania was followed by Kangaroo Island and a stay at beautiful Seascape (Emu Bay; phone +61 8 8553 5199, www.seascape.ws) with its glorious ocean views, friendly hosts and interesting guests. A full-day tour of the island, just for us, focused on wildlife and nature, including walking amongst sea lions on the beach.

Our journey ended in Sydney and, despite our professed dislike for cities, we really enjoyed it. The Harbour Rocks Hotel (phone +61 2 8220 9999, fax 9998, www.harbourrocks.com.au) was very comfortable, just minutes’ walk from the Circular Quay, the Ferry Terminal and the Sydney Opera House

We had a wonderful afternoon sailing in Sydney Harbour, we had an excellent private tour of historic Sydney with a most pleasant guide, and we were thrilled with a flight over Sydney Harbour in a very small helicopter.

We flew back home to the States convinced that our first visit to Australia would not be our last.

DAVID SUTCLIFFE

The Villages, FL