Last year I decided to keep my longtime promise to an Aussie friend to visit her and her country. Thank goodness I listened when a friend mentioned a travel agency that her friends had raved about, Australia 2000 Travel.
From my first contact with Karen, I was stunned by how determined she was to develop an itinerary that would match our particular desires within the flight schedule I’d already set. Because Australia 2000 Travel’s arrangements were so thorough, so well explained, and so smooth running, we were at ease both before and during the trip, able to stay focused on the present activity with no concern about what would follow. Even our taciturn Aussie friend, who was included in part of our itinerary, frequently remarked how impressed she was by Australia 2000’s work, how worthwhile each tour was, how perfectly the hotels matched our needs, how smoothly the trip progressed. Frequently a guide would say something that made me realize how much respect Australia 2000 Travel has earned among those in the travel industry. I believe that’s why I’m able to say that every single person that Australia 2000 Travel brought us in contact with was courteous, conscientious, and a delight to be with.
Our Sydney highlights: tour of the magnificent Opera House, aboriginal art in Art Gallery of New South Wales, history lesson at Hyde Park Barracks, beauty of Elizabeth Bay House, wallaby with joey hopping up to us at Taronga Zoo, intro to Ugg boots and Jacaru hats in the Blue Mountains, beautiful walks on headlands and beaches just minutes from downtown, and commuting by ferry on Sydney Harbour.
On to the Red Centre. Uluru at sunrise and Uluru under a full moon are breathtaking, but nothing beats Kata Djuta as Mother Nature’s surprise creation! On the Liru Walk near Uluru, we heard Cassidy, an aborigine, tell a fascinating story in his own language. No problem understanding, with the aid of his expressive face and hands as well as an interpreter. All the small group tours that Australia 2000 arranged gave us great satisfaction.
Alice Springs feels like a frontier town, though modern conveniences abound. The tours of the Royal Flying Doctor Service and School of the Air increased our understanding of how people cope with Australia’s vastness. We loved shopping in Alice, and were especially thrilled to find an affordable piece of aboriginal art in my favorite artist’s style.
Warm temperatures in Cairns were a welcome change! On our reef tour, we were surprised to find out how easy snorkeling is! We rented wetsuits and a flotation belt made me feel secure. Swam over corals, fish, sea cucumbers, and GIANT clams, just like those shown in “Blue Planet.” Amazing buffet lunch provided, and every crew member was lots of fun.
Our Daintree rainforest accommodation was an incredible place – a vacation within a vacation! We had our own cabin with verandah overlooking, and making us feel we were IN, the forest. Jacuzzi on verandah, and home harvested ylang ylang oil (main ingredient of Chanel #5, we were told, harvested from a local flower) to perfume the bath. Fantastic meals served by the pond, prepared from local produce and flavorings and presented graciously. While at the lodge, we were led on a 2 hr tour of the area by an aboriginal guide, Ronald. On the trail, he explained (in good English) the uses of plants by his people and showed us a collection of his tools, weapons, and crafts. Then he played the didgeridoo and showed us pictures of himself and family dressed for native dances and proudly explained that his 15 yr old son would soon be initiated as a dance leader at the annual festival and competition held by area aborigine families. Talking to lodge staff later, I realized how hard Ronald works in the modern world in order to maintain his whole family as close to their roots as possible. We felt privileged to spend two hours with this man of two worlds.
On to New Zealand, where the low temp was forecast at 0 C. Glad I had already waterproofed my new Ugg boots because I wore them every day in NZ!
Our Auckland accommodation was large apartment containing a kitchen and a washer/dryer! A day tour with our Maori guide gave both an appreciation for the beauty of the area and a personal introduction to Maori history and culture. A box of NZ chocolates, courtesy of Australia 2000 Travel, were a delicious surprise!
The compact beauty of NZ hit me during the flight to Nelson. From my window seat, I was amazed to see simultaneously all the types of terrain people tend to rave about: ocean, beach, cliffs, fields, forests, and snow topped mountains. I was truly in awe.
Our accommodation in Nelson provided congenial hosts John and Jill, perfect location, full kitchen, and a HEATED MATTRESS PAD! We hiked to the “Centre of NZ.” It’s about 30 min walk from downtown, mostly straight up! Well, ok, zigzag up. On the top is a monument purporting to mark the geographic center of the country. May not be true, I learned, but the view’s terrific!
Our last day was in Abel Tasman National Park, a NZ jewel appreciated by locals as much as tourists. Bob and I were the only “water taxi” passengers dropped that day at Tonga Beach. The beach had rocks warmed by the sun, so we ate the huge, delicious picnic lunch that had been provided, then ambled through the forest to Medlands beach. Many of my favorite trip photos were taken along this walk. On the return boat, we had dolphins jumping alongside, which excited even the crew because it was so unusual in winter.
Thanks, Karen, Josephine, Wendy, and Australia 2000 Travel, for enabling our fantastic travel experience in Australia and New Zealand. What lovely memories you helped us create!
Julie and Bob Sigler
Traveled to Australia & New Zealand June 2009