With a firm grip on her travel budget, Melanie Ball explores Australia for dollar-friendly holiday options.
A change is as good as a holiday, proverbial wisdom tells us – in one of those sayings that is as inaccurate as it is irritating. Alas, escaping the everyday usually costs money however, we are lucky to live in a country flush with inexpensive holiday options.
Although petrol costing under a dollar a litre has almost certainly joined the ranks of the extinct, the great road trip, or at least a shortened version, lives on with campervan relocations. Rental companies frequently need vehicles moved between major cities, and a relocation deal from Alice Springs to Darwin might allow a week for the trip at a charge to you of just $5 a day.
These trips generally involve you paying for the petrol en route, but you’ll often receive a refund up to an agreed amount when you deliver the vehicle to its destination. Further, the time and kilometres allowed you to complete the journey generally include a provision for side trips. The Alice to Darwin relocation I investigated allowed for 150 km more than the direct road route, ample for sizing up the Devils Marbles, downing a beer at Daly Waters pub and paddling Katherine Gorge on your way north.
Hefty excess kilometre charges aside, campervan relocation is cheaper than every form of outback transport except camels!
Prefer salty air and seaspray? Savour them on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula, a patchwork of farms, parks and towns bounded by the Great Australian Bight, Spencer Gulf and vast salt lakes.
A west coast drive takes you from Ceduna, and the Nullarbor Plain, to Point Labatt to see (take binoculars) and smell (no additional equipment necessary) Australia’s largest breeding sea-lion colony. Dolphins surf the waves that roll through Venus Bay’s narrow entrance, and closer wildlife encounters await in Baird Bay, where snorkellers go mask-to-whiskered-nose with playful juvenile sea-lions.
And then there are King George whiting to catch, Coffin Bay oysters to shuck, and bluefin tuna to hand feed.
For a complete break from driving, train from Sydney to the Blue Mountains and explore beyond the Three Sisters. Step off the often crowded sandstone escarpment onto some of Australia’s best walks. Follow in coal and shale miners’ footsteps to Ruined Castle for breath-taking views of Kings Tableland. Wander through the Valley of the Waters, where cascades tumble from mossy ledges on which fairies must surely dance in private.
Accommodation (all budgets) is often just a stroll from trail heads – as are art galleries, gift shops and boutiques, in case your passion for exercise wanes. Don’t miss the Norman Lindsay Gallery in Faulconbridge (free for National Trust members) and afternoon tea in Katoomba’s Art Deco Paragon Café (and chocolatier).
Chocolate makers call Tasmania home, too, but there are other reasons to cross Bass Strait and check into Hobart. Ludicrously cheap flights from Melbourne leave cash in hand for enjoying the island state’s oysters, Atlantic salmon and ales.
With its spectacular harbour and 1270 m scenic lookout (Mount Wellington), Hobart is an ideal base for day trips to Port Arthur and Bruny Island, the city’s adventure playground. Try to stretch your budget to a flight over the jagged Arthur Range and into the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, otherwise accessible only on foot. You’ll land at Melaleuca, where a hide allows you to spy on endangered orange-bellied parrots before you head to the local jetty to cruise beautiful Bathurst Harbour.
Back in Hobart, the ghosts of convict ships crowd Constitution Dock (free).
Convicts built the intimidating limestone prison overlooking Fremantle, Western Australia, and penal history flavours a holiday in this famous port town. So, too, do great maritime characters and stories, such as the Batavia. Wrecked off Western Australia in 1629, she is showcased in the excellent Maritime Museum along with exhibits ranging from other early wrecks to America’s Cup-winning Australia II and the Ovens, a retired Oberon Class submarine.
It is a short train ride from Fremantle’s café precinct and marina to Perth. There is a bike route up the Swan River, as well, and river cruises to the city. Catching a ferry in the opposite direction puts you among Sandgropers revelling in Rottnest Island’s pristine beaches and turquoise waters – and fighting greedy seagulls for chips!
Pelicans are more frequent visitors to the Murray, and this once mighty river is still a route to a great Victorian escape, despite ongoing water problems.
Visit historic river towns, stopping to chat with a winemaker, publican, motel owner or farmer. Stand under waterfalls in an Upper Murray national park. Relive the steam era in Echuca or watch hot air balloons rise over a houseboat in Mildura. Or simply pitch a tent among riverside gums and spend a week reading or fishing or just kicking back in the company of rowdy corellas.
Another fabulous destination for kicking back is the Sunshine State, and relaxing doesn’t come easier than on Fraser Island.
The world’s largest sand island is the place to dip your toes in tea-coloured lakes and teeter on sandblows fringing deeper water; to look up at towering trees in shadow-filled forests and walk kilometres of ribbon-like beach; to watch brahminy kites wheel on wings of burnished copper. With vehicular ferry passage from $80, resorts, cabins, private camp grounds and kilometres of beach camping (beware march flies in summer), Fraser is a treasure chest brimming with treats that cost next to nothing!
Be flexible about when and where. Destinations are cheaper and less crowded outside holiday seasons – and off-peak weather is rarely as bad as you fear!
Midweek flights generally cost less than weekend departures.
Compare the cost of petrol and time at the wheel with flying and hiring a car.
When buying airline tickets, look out for sales and promotions, such as Virgin Blue’s Happy Hour and Jetstar’s Friday Fare Frenzy. Compare domestic flights across airlines (except Tiger) at www.webjet.com.au. I recently booked Melbourne-Darwin tickets on Jetstar for the Monopoly-money price of $224 return!
Choose budget accommodation for most of your holiday and splurge on the final nights. You will remember the adventure of the former and the comfort of the latter.
Last-minute accommodation sites (e.g. www.wotif.com) offer great deals, but also check individual properties. Discounts for multi-night bookings are common.
Cook as many meals yourself as you can; make dining out a treat.
Contrast guided tours with do-it-yourself; the latter often give more freedom, the former can be better value and less hassle.
National Trust membership can soon pay for itself if you visit a few properties.
Many vehicle rental companies offer relocation deals and you can compare campervan relocation availability, costs, rental conditions (reduced insurance coverage, etc.) and book vehicles at one site.
Tourism Eyre Peninsula has all the information you need for a great South Australian holiday, including what to do and where to stay.
Ph 1800 067 739
Email [email protected]
The Seafood & Aquaculture Trail showcases Eyre Peninsula’s delicious offerings through tastings, visits to factories and tours.
Ph 1800 067 739 (Tourism Eyre Peninsula)
Email [email protected]
Trawl the Visiting the Blue Mountains website for comprehensive information on accommodation, adventure and attractions, dining and events. Click on ‘Bushwalks’ in the ‘Things to See and Do’ box for descriptions and grades of walks.
1300 653408 (Blue Mountains Tourism)
(02) 4787 8877 (National Parks and Wildlife Service)
For everything you need to know to visit Fraser Island, including the cost of vehicle permits (private vehicles), camping and barge times, log on to the Visit Fraser Coast and See Fraser Island websites.
Ph (07) 3512 8100
Go to the Fremantle Visitor Centre website for information about things to do and see in the Port City.
Ph (08) 9431 7878
The Western Australian Maritime Museum website provides further information on the Museum’s three main sites plus details of entry fees and opening hours.
(08) 9431 8444 (Shipwrecks Galleries)
(08) 9431 8334 (Maritime Museum and submarine Ovens)
Email [email protected]
Get into the flow of Murray River travel – including by houseboat – through the Discover Murray website.
Ph (08) 8363 6244