Getting there & away
They don’t call Australia the land ‘down under’ for nothing. It’s a long way from just about everywhere, and getting here is usually going to mean a long-haul flight. That ‘over the horizon’ feeling doesn’t stop once you’re here, either – the distances between key cities (much less opposing coastlines) can be vast, requiring a minimum of an hour or two of air time but up to several days of highway cruising or dirt-road jostling to traverse.
There are no restrictions when it comes to citizens of foreign countries entering Australia. If you have a visa, you should be fine.
Automated online ticket sales work well if you’re doing a simple one-way or return trip on specified dates, but are no substitute for a travel agent with the low-down on special deals, strategies for avoiding stopovers and other useful advice.
Paying by credit card offers some protection if you unwittingly end up dealing with a rogue fly-by-night agency, as most card issuers provide refunds if you can prove you didn’t get what you paid for. Alternatively, buy a ticket from a bonded agent, such as one covered by the Air Travel Organiser’s Licence (ATOL; www.atol.org.uk) scheme in the UK. If you have doubts about the service provider, at the very least call the airline and confirm that your booking has been made.
A Circle Pacific ticket is similar to a rount-the-world (RTW) ticket but covers a more limited region, using a combination of airlines to connect Australia, New Zealand, North America and Asia, with stopover options in the Pacific islands. As with RTW tickets, there are restrictions on how many stopovers you can take.
For online ticket bookings, including RTW fares, start with the following websites:
Air Brokers (www.airbrokers.com) This US company specialises in cheap tickets. Fly Los Angeles or San Francisco–Hong Kong–Bangkok–Singapore–Bali–Perth or Darwin; or Auckland–Fiji–Hawaii–Los Angeles or San Francisco.
Cheapest Flights (www.cheapestflights.co.uk) Cheap worldwide flights from the UK; get in early for the bargains.
Flights.com (www.flights.com) International site for flights; offers cheap fares and an easy-to-search database.
Roundtheworldflights.com (www.roundtheworldflights.com) This excellent site allows you to build your own trips from the UK with up to six stops.
STA Travel (www.statravel.com) Prominent in international student travel but you don’t have to be a student; site linked to worldwide STA sites.
Travel.com.au (www.travel.com.au) Good Australian site; look up fares and flights to/from the country.
Travelocity (www.travelocity.com) US site that allows you to search fares (in US dollars) to/from practically anywhere.
It’s possible (though by no means easy or safe) to make your way between Australia and countries such as Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, and between New Zealand and Australia and some smaller Pacific islands, by hitching rides or crewing on yachts – usually you have to at least contribute towards food. Ask around at harbours, marinas and sailing clubs.
Good places on the Australian east coast include Coffs Harbour, Great Keppel Island, Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays, and Cairns – basically anywhere boats call. Darwin could yield Indonesia-bound possibilities. A lot of boats move north to escape the winter, so April is a good time to look for a berth in the Sydney area.
There are no passenger liners operating to/from Australia and finding a berth on a cargo ship is difficult – that’s if you actually wanted to spend months at sea aboard an enormous metal can.
Disembarkation in Australia is a straightforward affair, with only the usual customs declarations and the fight to be first to the luggage carousel to endure. However, global instability in the last few years has resulted in conspicuously increased security in Australian airports, and you may find that customs procedures are now more time-consuming.
There are lots of competing airlines and a wide variety of air fares to choose from if you’re flying in from Asia, Europe or North America, but you’ll still pay a lot for a flight. Because of Australia’s size and diverse climate, any time of year can prove busy for inbound tourists – if you plan to fly at a particularly popular time of year (Christmas is notoriously difficult for Sydney and Melbourne) or on a particularly popular route (such as Hong Kong, Bangkok or Singapore to Sydney or Melbourne), make your arrangements well in advance of your trip.
The high season for flights into Australia is roughly over the country’s summer (December to February), with slightly less of a premium on fares over the shoulder months (October/November and March/April). The low season generally tallies with the winter months (June to August), though this is actually the peak tourist season in central Australia and the Top End.
Adelaide (code ADL; 08-8308 9211; www.aal.com.au)
Brisbane (code BNE; 07-3406 3190; www.brisbaneairport.com.au)
Cairns (code CNS; 07-4052 9703; www.cairnsport.com.au/airport)
Darwin (code DRW; 08-8920 1811; www.ntapl.com.au)
Melbourne (Tullamarine; code MEL; 03-9297 1600; www.melbourne-airport.com.au)
Perth (code PER; 08-9478 8888; www.perthairport.net.au)
Sydney (Kingsford Smith; code SYD; 02-9667 9111; www.sydneyairport.com.au)
Australia’s overseas carrier is Qantas, which is regarded as one of the world’s safest airlines and flies chiefly to runways across Europe, North America, Asia and the Pacific. It’s one of a dozen international airlines that have recently starting using the new double-decker Airbus A380, the biggest aircraft ever built.
Airlines that visit Australia include the following (all phone numbers listed here are for dialling from within Australia).
British Airways (airline code BA; 1300 767 177; www.britishairways.com; hub Heathrow Airport, London)
Lufthansa (airline code LH; 1300 655 727; www.lufthansa.com; hub Frankfurt Airport)
Flights between Hong Kong and Australia are notoriously heavily booked. Flights to/from Bangkok and Singapore are often part of the longer Europe-to-Australia route so they are also in demand. Plan your preferred itinerary well in advance.
Tiger Airways, a budget carrier, recently started services from Singapore to Darwin and Perth; after domestic services commence in late 2007, look out for an expansion of flights from Asian destinations into Australia.
Excellent bargains are sometimes available in Hong Kong. Some Asian agents:
The air fares sold by Canadian discount air-ticket sellers (consolidators) tend to be about 10% higher than those sold in the USA. Travel Cuts (866-246-9762; www.travelcuts.com) is Canada’s national student travel agency and has offices in all major cities.
From major European destinations, most flights travel to Australia via one of the Asian capitals. Some flights are also routed through London before arriving in Australia via Singapore, Bangkok, Hong Kong or Kuala Lumpur.
In Germany, good travel agencies include Adventure Travel (www.adventure-holidays.com), which specialises in Australian travel, and the Berlin branch of STA Travel (069 743 032 92; www.statravel.de). In France try Usit Connect Voyages (0825 082 525; www.usitconnections.fr) or OTU Voyages (01 55 82 32 32; www.otu.fr) – both of these companies are student/youth specialists and have offices in many French cities. Other recommendations include Voyageurs du Monde (08 92 23 56 56; www.vdm.com/vdm) and Nouvelles Frontiéres (08 25 00 07 47; www.nouvelles-frontieres.fr); the details given are for offices in Paris, but again both companies have branches elsewhere.
More travel agencies:
BarronTravel (020-625 8600; www.barron.nl) Dutch agency specialising in Australian travel.
Holland International (0900-8858; www.hollandinternational.nl) Good Dutch agency.
Wereldcontact (0343 530 530; www.wereldcontact.nl) Dutch agency.
Air New Zealand and Qantas operate a network of flights linking key New Zealand cities with most major Australian gateway cities, while quite a few other international airlines include New Zealand and Australia on their Asia-Pacific routes.
Another trans-Tasman option is the no-frills budget airline Freedom Air, an Air New Zealand subsidiary that offers direct flights between destinations on Australia’s east coast and main New Zealand cities.
There’s usually not a significant difference in price between seasons, as this is a popular route year-round.
There are two routes from the UK: the western route via the USA and the Pacific; and the eastern route via the Middle East and Asia. Flights are usually cheaper and more frequent on the latter. Some of the best deals around are with Emirates, Gulf Air, Malaysia Airlines, Japan Airlines and Thai Airways International. British Airways, Singapore Airlines and Qantas generally have higher fares but may offer a more direct route.
Discount air travel is big business in London. Advertisements for travel agencies appear in the travel pages of the weekend broadsheet newspapers, in Time Out, in the Evening Standard and in the free magazine TNT.
Popular agencies in the UK include the ubiquitous STA Travel (0871 230 0040; www.statravel.co.uk), Trailfinders (020-7938 3939; www.trailfinders.co.uk) and Flight Centre (0870 499 0040; www.flightcentre.co.uk).
At peak times such as mid-December, fares go up by as much as 30%.
Most of the flights between the North American mainland and Australia travel to/from the USA’s west coast, with the bulk routed through Los Angeles but some coming through San Francisco. Numerous airlines offer flights via Asia or various Pacific islands.