Australia //

Getting there

You can fly every day to the east-coast cities from Europe, North America and Southeast Asia. Fares depend on the season, the highest being the two weeks either side of Christmas. Fares drop during the “shoulder” seasons – mid-January to March and mid-August to November – and you’ll get the best prices during the low season, mid-April to June. Because of the distance from most popular departure points, flying on weekends does not alter the price.

The easiest way to find a flight is on flight websites that collate airline and agent prices. Specialist flight agents can also help, and may offer special student and youth fares as well as organize travel insurance, rail passes, car rental and tours. If Australia is one stop on a longer journey, consider a Round-the-World (RTW) ticket. Australia is a standard fixture of the eastbound RTW loop of most pre-packaged tickets offered by agents.

Flights from the UK and Ireland

The journey to Sydney and other eastern cities from London takes a minimum of 21 hours including stopovers. Sydney and Melbourne are served by the greatest number of airlines, though carriers like Qantas charge similar prices to fly to any eastern city between Cairns and Adelaide; flights to Darwin and Perth are a little cheaper.

Notwithstanding the stop to refuel, often in Singapore or Kuala Lumpur, direct flights depart from London’s Heathrow airport, although you can check luggage through if you fly with the same operator from regional UK airports to connect with the international flight at Heathrow.

Except for New Zealanders, all tourists (including those on one-year working visas) are required to arrive with a return ticket. The cheapest costs around £750 during the low season (May to mid-July). The most expensive time to fly is in the two weeks either side of Christmas, when you’d be lucky to find anything for less than £1100 return: book at least six months in advance to secure one of the cheaper tickets. Prices also go up from mid-July to mid-August, coinciding with the peak European holiday period. In between times (the shoulder seasons of mid-Aug to Nov and mid-Jan to March) you can pick up cheap deals.

An alternative to the long direct flight is a multi-stopover ticket, typically in Asia though often in the US or Middle East, which can cost the same or just a little more than the price of an ordinary return and breaks up the journey.

There are no direct flights to Australia from Ireland, so most routings involve a stopover in London or European hub like Frankfurt to transfer to a long-haul airline. Fares in low season are usually around the €1000 mark, €1900 in high season.

RTW tickets

Round-the-World (RTW) tickets will incorporate Australia within a package of global flights. The permutations are tantalizing: typically stopovers allow overland travel in Asia, the Pacific and North America, but you can pretty much devise your fantasy itinerary (say, to South America) and get it priced. A good agent such as STA Travel will piece together sector fares from various airlines; as an idea of prices, a simple London–Bangkok–Sydney–LA–London deal will come in at £750 minimum, while more complicated routings will be over £1400.

Flights from the US and Canada

From Los Angeles it’s possible to fly nonstop to Sydney in fourteen hours. Qantas, United and Air Canada operate direct to the east coast of Australia. National Asian airlines usually stop in their capital city (Singapore, Tokyo, Hong Kong etc) – their fares on the Pacific route from the west coast of North America to the east coast of Australia are generally higher than their American and Australian competitors.

Many of the major airlines offer stopover deals in Pacific Rim destinations such as Tokyo, Honolulu or Kuala Lumpur or at South Pacific locations such as Fiji. Either there will be a flat surcharge on your ticket or they may offer you a higher-priced ticket allowing you to make as many stops as you like, within certain parameters, over a fixed period of time.

As an idea of prices, standard scheduled return fares for low/high seasons are: to Sydney or Melbourne from Chicago or New York (US$1600/2000); Los Angeles or San Francisco (US$1400/2100); Montréal or Toronto (Can$1900/2100), Vancouver (Can$1500/1900). The price of an open-jaw ticket (flying into one city and returning from another) will be the average of the return fares to the two cities. If you plan to fly around Australia, a Qantas AirPass can pay dividends, though not necessarily due to price slashing by budget domestic flights – do the sums first.

RTW or Circle Pacific tickets

If you don’t mind setting an itinerary in advance, the best deal will most likely be a Round-the-World (RTW) ticket that has stop-offs in Australia and New Zealand from North America, typically via Southeast Asia or Europe but also South America. As ever, prices vary hugely depending on the agent. A sample RTW itinerary of Los Angeles–London–Dubai–Bangkok–Sydney–Auckland–Los Angeles costs around US$1600. Check the websites of agents such as STA Travel for deals.

Flights from New Zealand and South Africa

New Zealand – Australia routes are busy and competition is fierce, resulting in an ever-changing range of deals; your best bet is to check the latest prices with flight websites that pool all airlines’ prices or consult a specialist travel agent. Budget airlines have slashed fares, with the likes of Pacific Blue, Virgin’s low-cost Pacific subsidiary, offering daily deals. Ultimately, the price you pay will depend on how much flexibility you want; many of the cheapest deals are hedged with restrictions – typically, a maximum stay of thirty days and a fourteen-day advance-purchase requirement. Air New Zealand flies from Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin, Palmerston North and Wellington, Pacific Blue flies from Auckland, Christchurch, Hamilton, Queenstown and Wellington. Flight times from Auckland to Sydney are three-and-a-half hours.

Flying from South Africa, the journey time is around twelve hours, travelling from Johannesburg to Sydney. The main carriers are Qantas and South African Airways, which both offer flights at around ZAR13,000.

Getting there from Southeast Asia

This has long been a popular route to Australia for European backpackers thanks to its opportunities for adventure at a budget-friendly price. Travelling overland through Southeast Asia also shouldn’t make too much of a difference to the price of your plane ticket, since many Asian airlines stop in Bangkok, Singapore, Jakarta or Kuala Lumpur en route to Australia, and breaking your journey is either free or possible for a small extra charge. If you want to continue overland between, say, Bangkok and Bali, from where it’s a short flight to Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territory, consider a Round-the-World ticket with an overland component. Be aware, too, that if you buy a one-way ticket from Bali, you will still need a return ticket out of Australia to get through immigration.

Agents and tour operators

If time is short and you’re reasonably sure of your plans, prebook some accommodation and tours; see below for a list of operators and Australian tour specialists.

Agents and operators

AAT Kings UK t020 8225 4220, Australia t1300 228 546, NZ t0800 500 146; whttp://www.aatkings.com. Long-established Australian coach-tour operator to destinations nationwide.

Abercrombie and Kent US t1-800/554-7016, whttp://www.abercrombiekent.com. The high-end agent excels in tailored tours and interesting experiences themed by family fun, adventure, highlights or icons. Also has a couple of fixed-itinerary tours.

Explore UK t0845/013 1537, Republic of Ireland t01/677 9479; whttp://www.explore.co.uk. Interesting Aussie adventures such as a two-week tour by tall ship as well as a highlights of Australia.

North South Travel UK t01245/608 291, whttp://www.northsouthtravel.co.uk. Small, competitive agency with discounted fares. Profits support projects in the developing world, especially the promotion of sustainable tourism.

STA Travel UK t0871/230 0040, US t1-800/781-4040, Australia t134 782, NZ t0800/474 400, South Africa t0861/781 781; whttp://www.statravel.co.uk. Worldwide specialists in independent travel; also student IDs, travel insurance, car rental, rail passes and more. Good discounts for students and under-26s.

Swain Australia Tours US t1-800/227-9246, whttp://www.swainaustralia.com. Large range of customizable tours that cover all the major destinations and most regions, plus wine-or wildlife-themed itineraries.

Trailfinders UK t0845/054 6060, Ireland t01/677 7888, Australia t1300/780 212; whttp://www.trailfinders.com. One of the best-informed and most efficient agents for independent travellers.

Travel CUTS Canada t1-800/667-2887, US t1-800/592-2887; whttp://www.travelcuts.com. Canadian youth and student travel firm.

USIT Ireland t01/602 1906, Northern Ireland t028/9032 7111; whttp://www.usit.ie. Ireland’s main student and youth travel specialists also specializes in working holidays.

World Expeditions UK t020/8545 9030, US & Canada t1-800/567-2216, Australia t1300 720 000, NZ t09/368 4161; whttp://www.worldexpeditions.co.uk. Australian-owned adventure company; small-group active wilderness holidays; cycling, canoeing, rafting, 4WD excursions, walking and camping.

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