When people ask me about my job and are told that I am in the Tourism Industry, their first remark is usually, “So you must travel a lot!” Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. But we do get some rare opportunities for visiting far off lands with Incentive groups or on Familiarization trips.
I completed the Aussie Specialist programme in February 2008 which qualified me as an Australia tourism specialist and also gave me a chance to be eligible for a Familiarization tour to Australia. Twenty eligible agents including myself were chosen by Tourism Australia to participate in this tour. These Famils, as they are called, are organized each year by the Australian Tourism Board and Aussie Specialist agents are selected to visit the country. This includes a lot of touring and site inspections. We are also introduced to new tourism products which they wish to promote.
Our 10-day adventure included Brisbane and Gold Coast in Queensland and Sydney in New South Wales.
Queensland is known as the Sunshine State – “Beautiful One Day, Perfect the Next.” We arrived at the Brisbane Airport where we were met by our lively, mischievous and lovable Tourism Queensland Representative – Ms. Anne Miller. I have never met a lady like her who makes you feel so comfortable and at home right from the first meeting. She was with us throughout the tours of Brisbane and Gold Coast. She also went out of her way to arrange some site inspections and touring that we wished to do but was not mentioned in our schedule.
Our first city was Brisbane. Young and vibrant, Brisbane lies at the heart of one of the most diverse and popular holiday regions in Australia and enjoys an enviable climate of warm, bright summers and clear, mild winters – making Brisbane an ideal place to visit all year round.
The city lies on the banks of the serpentine Brisbane River, a colourful waterway for high-speed ferries, paddle-wheelers and pleasure boats. Just over the bridge from the Central Business District, the South Bank area has all the fun, festivity, art and culture on the south bank of the Brisbane River. There you will find the Queensland Performing Arts Complex, State Library, Queensland Art Gallery and Museum. Not to miss out is the Brisbane Eye, which is 61 metres tall and gives you a great view of the city as it moves. The entry charge is around AUD 15 for a ride. South Bank Parklands on the Brisbane River is home to restaurants, cafes, the Maritime Museum and a real sandy beach and lagoon – all with a city backdrop.
Certain Must Do’s in Brisbane are taking a quick trip on the City Cat cruise, visiting the Botanical Gardens in front of the Parliament building, shopping for souvenirs at Queen Street Mall which has a variety of small restaurants, pubs, grub corners, coffee shops, a movie theatre and a cell phone store. Brisbane has a number of bridges with the most popular being Kangaroo Bridge and Story Bridge. A popular recreational activity is the Story Bridge Adventure Climb. For shoppers with a budget, Brunswick Street is amazing with a China Town and Flea Market open on Saturdays and Sundays.
The first night we stayed at the Sofitel Brisbane – located in the City Centre and linked directly to the train station. Our first day started with a short city tour of Brisbane and then we headed to the Holt Street Warf to take a 1 hour and 15 minutes ferry ride to reach Tangalooma. Chad Croft from Tangalooma was there to receive us and update us about his property, the Tangalooma Wild Dolphin Resort. It is on Moreton Island and surrounded by crystal clear waters, white sandy beaches and untouched national parks. With over 75 tours and activities on offer, the resort is a perfect destination for guests seeking an action packed, educational, nature based or relaxing experience. In fact it is the only resort where all guests get the opportunity to feed the wild Bottlenose Dolphins. This activity takes place each day in the evening.
After an amazing Indian meal, we headed to enjoy our Quad Bike ride from the beach up to the top of Moreton Island – a sand island – and coming down another way. It costs approximately AUD 40 but is definitely a must do here. Later in the evening we walked towards the well lit Jetty to participate in the dolphin-feeding activity where these wild dolphins come really close to the shore, giving the visitors a chance to feed them. From Tangalooma, we continued our travels to reach Gold Coast.
Gold Coast is a fantastic place not just for those who want to relax and wander around but also for those who wish to have an action packed holiday full of fun activities. With miles of surf beach, lush green rainforest, world-class golfing greens, world-famous theme parks and with every kind of accommodation from exclusive 5-star hotels to sunny beachside apartments – that’s the Gold Coast. The most iconic building there is the Q1 which is the tallest residential tower in the world and ideally located right on Surfers Paradise. It is 322.5 metres high with 80 levels. Inspirational, breathtaking and stunning, it offers luxury one, two and three bedroom apartment accommodation with unique glass balconies. The Q Deck, which is the observatory, is on level 77 from where one gets a panoramic view of Gold Coast. Level 78 features the Skylight Room, which available for unique functions and events. Some of the important areas in Gold Coast are the Broadbeach area and Surfers Paradise. Broadbeach is more relaxed, with the famous casino-hotel Conrad Jupiters. Surfers Paradise, on the other hand, is very lively with many shops, a wide range of accommodation, a beach which is great for surfing and countless entertainment options such as a Reverse Bungee Arena, a -50 Bar and Dracula’s Cabaret Restaurant.
We spent our night at Palazzo Versace – the first Versace hotel in Australia designed by Donatella Versace. This is a fantastic 5-star luxury hotel including its own artificial beach besides the other trademark 5-star facilities. The next morning we headed to Dreamworld – home to The Big 6 Thrill Rides including the brand new Mick Doohan Motocoaster. We enjoyed ourselves at the Nickelodeon Central, Wiggles World, Tiger Island, the Australian Wildlife Experience (where you can get yourself picture with a koala bear) and Australia’s first and only stationary wave, FlowRider.
After lunch at Dreamworld, it was time for some shopping at the Harbour Town, located just 15 kilometres north of Surfers Paradise. Harbour Town is an award winning shopping destination with more than 95 brand-direct outlet stores selling over 300 brands of the world’s top name fashions and home wares direct to shoppers with savings of up to 60 percent below normal retail prices, every day. This is a great shopping place which I will definitely recommend all my clients.
Tonight we were at Sofitel Gold Coast on Broadbeach with all our rooms having a fantastic view of the beach. Like the Sofitel Brisbane this hotel too had a direct exit to the Monorail station which connects it directly to the Conrad Jupiters hotel.
Our Indian travel agent group was quite enthusiastic and wished to discover the place more that what was shown to us. So each night after dinner we would all go out for a long stroll to discover more of the city.
On the third day, we were supposed to take a hot air balloon flight for which we were ready before dawn, but due to the unsupportive climate our tour got cancelled instead of which we visited the Q1 on Surfers along with a visit to the Qdeck. A beautiful and an unforgettable experience.
Another activity that we took the same day was the visit to Mt. Tamborine. It is a flora and fauna sanctuary in the Gold Coast hinterland. Situated only 40 minutes from the coast and at an elevation of 550 meters the mountain is renowned for perfect climate, spectacular views, lush farmland, subtropical rainforest and country hospitality. Set amidst this natural beauty are wineries, country arts and crafts, restaurants, antique shops, galleries tearooms and nurseries. Our tour included a visit to the Tambourine Mountain Distillery which is owned by Michael and Alla Ward. This Distillery uses a traditional copper pot still to distil a variety of locally grown fruit and this fruit is used in a variety of handmade liqueurs. It is Australia’s smallest operating Pot Still Distillery, but of world renown, including in Europe, America, Canada, New Zealand and Asia and has won many awards to its credit. We continued to visit the Witches Chase Cheese Factory to see artisan style cheese and gourmet ice cream in the making. We tried a variety of award winning local cheese including Tamembert and Witches Blue Vein – one of only two Queensland-made blue cheeses. This was followed by a visit to the fudge shop where there were over 40 different kinds of fudge. After a late lunch we head back to the hotel for some rest before we left for Site inspection of Conrad Jupiters followed by Dinner hosted by the Gold Coast Tourism. This was the last night in Queensland before leaving for the very popular city of Sydney.
Next morning we reached Sydney after a 1 hour and 30 minutes flight. We were received at the airport by Nadine Wilson from Tourism New South Whales. She was our cute and patient host throughout our stay in Sydney. Though Canberra is the capital of Australia, it is Sydney that has all the glitz and glamour and quite often is also mistaken to be the capital city. Endowed with a sparkling harbour, dazzling beaches and a sunny Mediterranean climate, its setting alone has guaranteed Sydney a place among the glamorous cities on the planet. The entire layout of the city shows that it has been crafted for Tourists. On arrival we were taken to an Italian restaurant called Casa Di Nico on the Kings Steet Warf. The restaurant captures your heart not just with its outstanding food, wine and passion for Italy but also with the spectacular views of the waterfront.
After lunch we continued to the Sydney Aquarium which is next to the restaurant – a must do in Sydney. It has a large collection of over 11,500 aquatic life, the largest Great Barrier Reef Display in the world and an extensive collection of huge sharks and rays. We dropped our luggage at Metro Hotel, a decent 3* accommodation on Pitt Street close to the majors attractions like the Darling Harbour, Cockle Bay Warf, Star City Casino, Sydney entertainment Centre and the Paddy’s markets. We took an evening harbour cruise with captain Cook cruises which takes you through all the best known landmarks. A great cruise to opt for to orient oneself with the city attractions and their locations. In the evening we took a short 10 minute walk to the Sydney tower for a fantastic dinner at the revolving Sydney Tower Restaurant. A great option for Honeymoons who can dine along with getting 3600 views of Sydney.
The next day we were ready by 7.30 am to reach Jetty no. 06 at the Circular Quay to board a 12 Minute cruise to Taronga Zoo. Taronga is an aboriginal word meaning “Water View” and it is certainly appropriate to the zoo’s location on the north bank of Sydney Harbour with panoramic views across to the Opera House and the skyscrapers of downtown Sydney. There we were met by Arabella Hammond who along with her experienced volunteers took us though the Zoo. It houses a variety of animals and is a real treat to the nature lovers. The attraction I loved the most was the Energy Australia Seal show, a 30 – 45 minute spectacular presentation by the housed seals and their trainers. We had our lunch at the Taronga Food Market. We boarded our ferry by 1pm to take on the Sydney Opera House Guided Tour. A great tour for those into Art and Music. Besides the tours concert shows too can be booked here on prior notice. The Sydney Opera has a Historic tale behind its making. The irony is that the Dannish architect, Jorg Utzon who started building this fabulous structure left it half way and left for home and has not returned since then to see the iconic structure of Sydney in its complete form. The Sydney Opera House is now one of the busiest Performing Arts Centre in the world. Working with a new enriching, interactive audio-visual component, where images are projected onto the fabric of the building – the guides take you on an emotional journey, You will visit one of the major venues where live performances are held each day. After an enthralling experience at the opera we moved on for something more adventurous. The Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb is a multi award winning tourist attraction, taking the climbers to the summit of the Sydney Harbour Bridge during a 3.5 hour adventure. It was totally a different experience reaching the summit of the bridge and looking on to the City from there. After our 3 hour adventure we rushed to the King Street Warf so as not to miss out on the Sydney Showboat Dinner Cruise departing at 7.30pm. A perfect evening cruise with delicious fusion of style and taste from Sydney’s finest seafood to modern international cuisine. Guests are also treated to an extravagant show featuring gorgeous Australian showgirls who have danced their way from the Moulin Rouge to the Showboat.
Our next day was more relaxed with a full day tour to the Blue Mountains. It is a 2 and a half hour drive from Sydney and a must include tour in any itinerary. It is a captivating world of National parks, Spectacular scenery, awe-inspiring vistas and the grandeur of ancient mountains that have remained unchanged from the Jurassic era. The Blue Mountains derive its name from the fact that the gum trees release oil into the air, which reacts with the sunlight to produce a blue haze. On arrival we experienced the screening of the edge movie which told us one of the greatest stories of humankind – the story of discovery and coming to terms with the ancient, complex world we live in. Later we were met by our Blue Mountain Tourism Representative for a briefing of the days activities and we were divided into four groups for “The Blue Mountain Challenge“. We were given over 50 questions about the places and shops we visit and were to answer it section by section. It was a unique way they used to familiarize us with the place. We started from Leura a beautiful village with lots of Gourmet Shops and bakeries and a Local Clock Tower. A great place to stroll around and browse fashion boutiques, galleries, bookstores and Bric–a–Brac stores. It also has lovely parks and gardens to enjoy. From there we moved on to Echo Point – It is from where one gets a panoramic views of the Southern Blue Mountains, Kanangra – Boyd Wilderness and the Three Sisters rock formation. In the area there are many lookouts and walks including a path to the Three Sisters walk and the Giant Stairway. We were told that at night the entire place lights up and I could very well imagine ho beautiful it would look. As our challenge continued we had to make way to the Scenic World. The Scenic World includes a Scenic Railway, Scenic Cableway, Scenic Skyway and Scenic Walkway. The Scenic Railway is the Steepest incline passenger railway in the world and is entered in the Guinness Book of World Records. The Cableway glides smoothly between scenic Scenic World and the forest floor 545 Metres below. Once on the valley floor we strolled though the wilderness of longest elevated timber boardwalk. The Skyway cable car took us on a 720 Metre journey above the ancient ravines and dazzling waterfalls. The end of the day also brought us to the end of our challenge. One of the four teams with the maximum correct answers was to be announced as the winner of the challenge. Our team stood fourth but the experience we gathered was something to remember. We were back in Sydney by 5.30 and the balance of the day was for us to explore and enjoy on our own. We were out of Menzies, our centrally located 4-star hotel very close to the Darling harbour and the Sydney Sky tower in 20 mins. We took a stroll on George Street, very popular street for shopping as it has many shops with great discounts. Christmas preparations had already started and the streets and the malls were beautifully lit up and decorated with Christmas decorations.
The next day we took a full day trip to Hunter Valley where we were escorted by Neil Gordon from APT coaches who gave us ideas on itinerary planning for Hunter valley and Port Stephans region. Just 4 hours away from Sydney and with more than 120 wineries, Hunter valley produces some terrific wines, including the Hunter Semillon and Hunter Shiraz. On the way to Hunter Valley we stopped at the Wollombi Village which had a Tavern and a Museum. This stop is included because as a rule all the tourist vehicles need to have a stop after every 2 hours run. After the short break we headed to Hunter Valley and our first stop was at the McWilliams Mount Pleasant Estate where we were taken for some wine tasting. From there we went for site inspection of Grand Mercure hunter Valley gardens Hotel. A 4.5-star boutique property surrounded by beautifully landscaped gardens. It has apartment style rooms ideally located in Pokolbin close to most of the places to visit in Hunter Valley. After our lunch was hosted in the restaurant called The Steakhouse we explored the 12 Themed garden at the Hunter Valley Garden of which my favorite was the Storybook garden featuring timeless nursery rhyme characters. The Storybook Garden is a delight for all ages taking the visitor along on a journey through childhood dreams, memories and fantasies.
A number of weddings and conferences are held in Hunter valley and we had the good fortune of seeing some locals in their traditional garments going to the wineries to attend a Marriage in a Horse carriage. We then went to the Hunter resort for our orientation on Wines, how they are made, the different variety of wines and the art of wine blending and how they are finally bottled. Of course wine tasting followed thereafter!!
We did not have an overnight stay in the Hunter Valley as we were short on time and also had to visit Port Stephens which is a hour and a half away from Hunter valley. Port Stephens is known as the “Dolphin Capital of Australia”. Its bay is home to around 150 bottlenose dolphins that you get to see all year round. A quite, friendly place and a must include all the tours for water and nature lovers. It is amazing to know how such a small place has so many activity options available for tourism. It’s a unique place which offers you beach and cruise activities and at the same time you can even go on a sand dune safari and enjoy sandboarding. We reached our hotel Salamander Shores for dinner after which we enjoyed in the little pub of the hotel. It is situated on the waters at Soldiers point and each room has a perfect view of the sea in the front. Every morning at 8 they have a bird feeding session where Lorikeets come to feed on the bread crumbs we offer them. Today we met up with Tars Bylhouwer from Port Stephens Tourism. Since the weather was not with us and some activities had to be cut down he arranged some alternate indoor activity for us which was much appreciated by all of us. We had some site inspections for the day at the Oaks Pacific Blue Resort and the Sahara Trails Horse Riding and farmstay after which we head for the Shark and Ray feeding centre with the admission fee of around A$ 25. It was a huge pond with friendly Sharks and Sting who love to be fed by the visitors while they cruise around your feet. We proceeded towards Nelson bay where we had to embark on our Moonshadow Dolphin Cruise. A comfortable 2 hour 15 minute cruise with our captain guiding us to view the dolphins as they sped by. The unique feature of this cruise was that after some time they released a net in the chilling waters called the Boom net and the passengers could have a dip and if they are lucky some dolphin may even be swimming along with them. After this unique cruise experience we went for the most diverse activity which was a 4×4 sand dune safari. It was a confused landscape feature with sand dunes that ended into a sea. The Stockton Bight Sand Dunes need to be seen to be believed – covering an area of 2,500 hectares along the 32 km long Stockton beach. The dunes climb up to 30 metres with slopes up to 600 ideal for sandboarding. We did a few rounds of sandboarding but the ease with which we came down the slope it was with equal difficulty that we climbed up again. This was the final activity of our hectic yet memorable tour which was so accurately planned for us agents.
Australia has opened itself to a lot of tourism which reflected in the entire setup of the cities. It looked as if the cities aimed at increasing the desire of the tourists to visit Australia. Tourism Australia along with the support from the tourism board of each state organized this famil to equip us with enhanced knowledge to sell these destinations to our travelers and I am sure that with this detailed product knowledge Australia will be more effectively sold by us.