Published on June 1st, 2016 | by john.weir0
Affordable Australia – head West for extraordinary experiences that won’t cost the earth
So you think you need a month and a windfall to visit Australia? Wrong. New tours and affordable hotels are making Western Australia easier to explore in a two week holiday. And it’s not just us who think so, Lonely Planet listed Western Australia as one of its Best Value Destinations for 2016, stating the State’s dream-like destinations are now more accessible to international travellers thanks in part to the falling Australian dollar. Start planning with these seven great new experiences from robot art tours to glamping:
1. Budget AND beachside – the new eco retreat on Rottnest
Rottnest Island, the stunning nature reserve a 30 minutes ferry ride from Perth, is getting its first eco retreat in December 2016. Pinky’s Eco Retreat, which will open overlooking one of the island’s pristine beaches, will include 10 affordable two bedroom “family” tents and 35 backpacker or budget tents as well as 29 more luxurious options (4 and 5 star) with ensuites. There will also be a beach club with a bar, café and restaurant, all with breathtaking views over the Indian Ocean. Use of recyclable water, solar energy, sustainable building practices and products, solar passive design as well as innovative environmental solutions will be integral to the retreat.
The glamping retreat will be the perfect spot to explore the car-free island’s bike and snorkelling trails from as well as spotting its famous local, the quokka, a photogenic marsupial similar to pint-sized kangaroo. Prices will start from $75 (£37) per night for the budget two-person tent to $250 (£125) for the luxury tents. The property is being built by a consortium which includes Rottnest ferry and tour operator rottnestexpress.com.au The backpacker tents will open first in December 2016.
To see more of Western Australia’s natural wonders combine Rottnest with a drive up Australia’s Coral Coast. Travelbag (http://www.travelbag.co.uk 0871 402 1644) has a 11 night package from £1,219pp, which includes international flights, five nights in Perth and six days car hire and accommodation along the Indian Ocean Drive. Stop off at the striking Pinnacles and Kalbarri National Park en route before meeting the wild dolphins and dugongs of Monkey Mia.
2. Catch a ride with a local Postie
The Dampier Peninsula is where Australia’s outback meets the ocean in a riot of colour. Who better to help you navigate the red pindan roads and palm fringed white sand beaches than the Peninsula Postie. Sharing a ride with the Dampier Peninsula’s mail service, you can visit Australia’s oldest pearl farm for breakfast, swim in the turquoise waters of Cape Leveque Beach, meet the indigenous communities at Lombadina and Beagle Bay and take a stroll through the Sacred Heart Church, famous for its Pearl Shell Altar – all at a bargain price. There is no running commentary but you will get a quirky insight into life in this beautiful, remote region. Take it all in on a whistle stop half day tour or let the postie drop you off for an overnight stay at Kooljaman Wilderness Camp so you have time for a mud crabbing tour with aboriginal elders before picking up a return service back to Broome. Price from $70 (£35) pp ahoybuccaneers.com.au/postie-tour
3. Take a walk on the wild side – extraordinary nature on a two week drive for £949pp
Suspended in midair by a cantilever that stretches 10m out from the cliff face into the Southern Ocean, visitors to the new lookout at Torndirrup National Park, near Albany will get an extraordinary view of the dramatic coastline and migrating whales this area of Western Australia is famous for.
The Southern Ocean has sculpted a Natural Bridge and The Gap in the coastal granites. The new raised pathways provide safe access to the stunning views and protection to vulnerable plants on the rock surface. In addition the see-through lookout platform which rises almost 40m above the surging seas, allows those brave enough to view the true power of Mother Nature, at this, the southernmost tip of land before Antarctica.
In a two week drive from Perth, visitors combine this new experience with other ‘wild walks’ through natural wonders in Australia’s South West. From tackling a section of the stunning coastal Cape to Cape track in Margaret River, to the Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walk which lets you stroll amongst some of the tallest trees in the world and the biodiverse Porongurup National Park. Here a Granite Skywalk offers peerless views to birdwatchers and wildflower enthusiasts.
Austravel (www.austravel.com 0808 159 6961) has a 15 day road trip package from £949 pp – saving £450 per couple. This includes 14 nights motorhome hire, return international flights to Perth and a free city explorer tour. Selected travel in September 2016.
4. Take a walk back in time on new historical tours of Broome
A series of new walking tours from Narlijia Cultural Tours will help visitors explore the fascinating history of Broome, a pearling port on the edge of the outback. Guide Bart Pigram is a Yawuru man from the West Kimberley who grew up in Broome. Drawing on his own family history in the pearling industry as well as his training as a curator, Bart tells stories of the town’s iconic pearling sites, breathing life back into places like the Old Jetty; the Goods Shed and tramway; the foreshore pearling camps and the gambling houses. As well as the history tour, Bart offers a Mangrove tour, helping visitors discover the rich pickings in the mangrove forests and on the jabalbal (mudflats) as well as hearing the Dreaming story of Randigunya the giant. Prices from $55 (£27) per person toursbroome.com.au
5. New apartment resort in upcoming Fremantle neighbourhood
Seashells, already known for its good value holiday apartments elsewhere in Western Australia, is adding a stunning new development to its offering with 24 short-stay apartments in a buzzing part of Fremantle. The 4 star property will have a choice of studio, one and two-bedroom self-contained apartments, plus deluxe rooms with kitchenettes – perfect for those that don’t want the expense of eating every meal out. Although visitors will be sorely tempted by George Street, a favourite haunt of ‘Freo’ locals thanks to its stylish cafes and bars, which is close by. The Swan River and the ferry over to Rottnest are also within a short walk. Guests will also be able to enjoy a rooftop tapas and cocktail bar at the property with views over Fremantle plus free parking and WiFi. Seashells Fremantle is taking bookings from June 2016. Prices from $199 (£98) www.seashells.com.au
6. Take the world’s first robot art tour – free
The world’s first humanoid robot has started taking tours at Perth’s Art Gallery of Western Australia (AGWA). From 28 May, ‘Aggie’, a 58cm tall robot, will be leading a monthly, hour-long tour as well a robot art class for children. Using state-of-the-art robotics, this walking, talking art expert brings the works in the Gallery to life with enchanting insights and aims to encourage more family visitors. She joins a team of 80 real life guides who offer free tours of the Gallery. Part of Perth’s Cultural Centre, the Art Gallery of Western Australia includes one of the world’s finest collections of Indigenous art. Aggie’s first tour focuses on women in art during the 1930s-1960s. General entry to the gallery and tours are free, although donations are encouraged. Some exhibitions have an entry fee. www.artgallery.wa.gov.au/events_programs/aggie.asp
7. New overnight stop on the legendary Gibb River Road
A driving holiday is one of the best budget friendly ways to soak up Western Australia’s landscapes and the WA Government has committed $40 million to improve camping and roadside facilities to make the State the ultimate road trip destination. This includes 450 new camping and caravan sites in national parks and on aboriginal lands in the Kimberley as well as upgraded visitor facilities including walk, bike and drive trails.
From June a new one of these camping grounds will open on the Gibb River Road owned and run by Imintji Aboriginal Community. At 220km from Derby and 440km from Wyndham, the camp ground is on a spot which was once an important rest point for bullock drivers on the legendary stockman route, the Gibb River Road. Now it will offer 20 sites for tents and vans as well as a store and WiFi close to stunning nature spots such as Bell Gorge, where drivers can cool off with a wild swim surrounded by dramatic red cliffs. Guests can also visit the art centre with the chance to purchase art directly from the community, 1km from the campground, and take part in guided walks which will be introduced shortly. This is the first of a new initiative called ‘Camping with Custodians’, which aims to give visitors more opportunities to interact with aboriginal communities in Western Australia. imintji.com.au
And three more tips for travelling on a budget
1. See more of Australia for less with an air pass
A number of airlines offer reduced fares if you book your internal flights at the same time as your international flight. With the Qantas Walkabout Pass for example, you can get great-value flights to Exmouth for Ningaloo Reef (2 hour flight from Perth) and Broome (2.5 hour flight from Perth or just over 5 hrs direct from Sydney) with your international fare. Singapore Airlines also offers an air pass in conjunction with Virgin Australia. Visit singaporeair.com and Qantas.com for more information
2. Land based whale watching
WA’s coast turns into a ‘humpback highway’ from May to December as 30,000 whales migrate from Antarctica to calving grounds in the Kimberley. You can even watch their aquatic acrobatics for free as they swim so close to shore. Top lookouts include Kalbarri National Park and Flinders Bay in Augusta. Visit Albany’s King George Sound and you’ll spot southern right and blue whales as well as their humpback cousins. Of course, from August 2016 visitors can have the ultimate whale experience by swimming with humpback whales at World Heritage-listed Ningaloo Reef. This once in a lifetime experience costs from $295 (£158) with Three Islands Whale Shark and Dive www.whalesharkdive.com
3. Get the local’s guide to Perth
Meet locals and see another side of Perth on a free i-City tour. Volunteer guides lead a series of themed walks every Monday to Friday from the Information Kiosk in Murray Street Mall. Take a tour of the city’s gardens, follow an art trail or take in the gold rush history. Fancy going it alone? Then download the free podcasts and maps from www.perth.wa.gov.au and recreate it yourself.