From Uluru (the monster monolith also known as Ayers Rock) looming over a desolate wasteland and changing colors as the day progresses, to the enthralling modern flair of the Gold Coast; from the Northern Territory’s gripping tropical vastness, to New South Wales’ sun-drenched beaches and then up the coast to the Great Barrier Reef, Australia is an adventure traveler’s Utopia.
Of course, with so much to do, the real task for travel agents is narrowing it all down for clients inquiring about an adventure-flavored trek. The choices are legion.
Most tour operators who list Australia on their menu will agree with the conclusion of a travel expert who says: “It’s tough to really narrow down [any particular spot], as Australia is full of adventure. The trick is to match the destination to the client’s exact wishes.”
For those who want to sample Australia in the raw, so to speak, it’s essential to book with a tour company with long experience in all things Down Under.
Consider Swain Tours, a family-owned firm known for its in-depth tours of the so-called “Land of Oz.” Begun in 1987 by native Australian Ian Swain and his American-born wife, Linda, Swain rose meteorically in a mere decade to become the east coast’s largest seller of travel to the South Pacific region.
Swain Tours today is a formidable presence in Australia known for its comprehensive tours of Africa and Southeast Asia. Despite its growth, it remains a family enterprise mirroring Swain’s vision to “create unique and interesting travel experiences customized to the individual client’s needs and desires.”
With deep roots in all things Australian, it’s no wonder that Swain markets some of the most interesting tours in the Land Down Under. It’s a land with deep roots in the outdoors and sometimes it seems that Australia and adventure are synonymous when it comes to travel.
active tour samplings
Presently, Swain offers a wide variety of options that present that adventurous and active side, although all of Swain’s tours are customized, so these tours are simply suggested tours. For example, its Grand Circle tour (from $4,870 pp dbl, without airfare), is a 13-night journey full of activities and sights sure to delight active travelers. Touching on activity-filled outdoor destinations like Alice Springs, Adelaide, Kangaroo Island, Uluru and the Great Barrier Reef before winding up with a 3-night stay in Sydney, the tour includes air transportation within Australia, some meals, guided hiking tours and harbor cruises.
Beyond this suggested itinerary, Swain throws in a bunch of Extras that you and your clients should definitely look into. For example, the Dreamtime and Bushtucker Tour takes guests on a culinary adventure as they sample “Witchetty Grub,” or some kangaroo tail, and learn about dreamtime and spiritual beliefs, bush survival, and the marriage and social system. This tour provides a rare opportunity to meet and interact first-hand with traditional elders, men, women and children from the Warlpiri tribe.
Another extensive and comprehensive tour that Swain can customize is Circle Australia (12 nights from $3,625 pp dbl; airfare to Australia is not included), which includes sunset hikes along Uluru, dives in the Great Barrier Reef, hot air balloon excursions, trips into Kata Tjuta to visit the astounding rock formations known as “The Olgas” and to experience dinner under the stars while listening to the sounds of the Outback, hikes deep into the Australian savannahs, and white-water rafting near Cairns on the Tully River for class III and IV rapids.
While in Sydney, say on the 5-night Sydney Sampler, with rates starting at $635, one of Swain Tours’ suggested add-ons is the Sydney Classic Bike Tour (from about $105 pp), a two-wheel trek that winds through the city’s streets with more than 30 stops, including the opera house, Sydney’s spectacular harbor, the Royal Botanical Gardens, Hyde Park, and Chinatown with refreshing pauses at local pubs to mingle with the locals. This is ideal for first-timers to Sydney who want to take in all the must-see sights, but want to add an active component.
According to the company’s marketing manager, Ian Swain II, Sydney’s “Bridge Climb—[in which visitors climb the metal monolith 427 ft. above sea level and enjoy a stunning 360-degree view of the glittering bay below]—is very popular, as are guided cultural walks around the city. We also organize surf lessons on Bondi [travel agents can add this as an extra to the Circle Australia tour]—and for a truly luxury and adventure experience we venture into Wolgan Valley.”
Less than three hours removed from Sydney, Wolgan Valley lies between two national parks in the middle of the Blue Mountains and spreads out at the foot of towering cliffs.
The area, dotted with waterfalls and mountain streams, epitomizes adventure travel. Visitors can hike along canyon trails, explore time-honored villages, ride the world’s steepest railway, encounter Australia’s astounding wildlife and spend time at the Three Sisters rock formation.
A stroll through “the bush” includes a visit to historic Katoomba, a small town famous for its mountain setting, extensive wilderness and unparalleled views.
Adventure lovers with a taste for the exotic and adventures off the tourist radar might opt for Swain’s tours to Tasmania, one of Australia’s “undiscovered gems” that Swain II says is “known for epic walks and hikes, as well as home to Saffire, a beautiful luxury lodge.”
Tasmania is the quintessential walk on the wild side and “uncompromised” by heavy industry and the hectic pace of modern times. In addition to spectacular natural beauty, it is the home to bizarre wildlife, challenging mountains, roaring rivers, rainforests and deserted beaches. Even Australians consider it a “world of its own.”
Swain’s Discover Tasmania package (from $1,825 pp dbl) is a 10-day tour that literally transports visitors to an unimagined wonderland.
It introduces travelers to exotic cities like Strahan, Hobart and Freycinet and skirts the wonderful terrain of the Cradle Mountains opening a door to a vast treasure of surprises.
Australians like to say that the mere mention of Tasmania is enough to whet the appetite for a visit to this large, uncanny island that lies in the southeast. They may be correct.
Swain Tours presents the best of Tasmania through a series of add-ons that offer delights like a drive to the summit of Mount Wellington, the breathtaking backdrop to the city of Hobart. This is one of the few places where visitors experience a change of terrain from alpine to rainforest within a few miles. Not enough adventure? Then tell clients to go for the Wilderness Air Tour, which flies deep into the heart of the Franklin and Gordon rivers before landing on a pontoon where guests will walk on an elevated boardwalk through the rainforest. They’ll then take a short walk past the ancient Huon Pine, Myrtle and to St John Falls.
History buffs may opt for a tour of Port Arthur (from about $145 pp), at one time the most dreaded and remote penal colony of the British Empire. This tour also offers a trip around the Isle of the Dead, a visit to the colonial village of Richmond and a stop at odd geological formations along the Tasmanian Peninsula.
From Launceston, visitors can venture deep in the Tasmanian forest (from about $185 pp) to see glacial lakes, rainforests and the magnificent wildlife of the island where wombats, potaroos and wallabies are common.
In addition, Swain offers guided hikes for those wishing to see a feral world where natural oddities seem the norm.
Some of Swain’s accommodations, too, are idyllic for true adventurers. Take the Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia, which encompasses nine spacious wilderness tents located just a few feet from the water’s edge. Here, guests can expect wild bush luxury as they set out to go swimming with whale sharks, go snorkeling along the Ningaloo Reef, hop on a kayak to get a “bird’s-eye” view of the reef, or take a walk through the gorges that offer a step back in geological history.
In the Wolgan Valley, Swain uses the Emirates Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa, a luxurious 40-suite (all have private indoor-outdoor swimming pools) retreat that boasts of a private conservation and wildlife reserve where guests enjoy activities like 4WD excursions, nature hikes, interpretative tours, wildlife viewing and horseback riding.
Tasmania’s Saffire Freycinet, meanwhile, is rapidly gaining a reputation as Tasmania’s top luxury resort. It’s situated in Freycinet National Forest and surrounded by pink mountains and fronts talcum beaches. Here, guests can go on a half-day quad bike tour along 4WD tracks through the coastal heathland to southern Friendly Beaches in the Freycinet National Park. They can also opt to take a helicopter tour, which can be completely customized for them.
Q&A with Ian Swain, President
SO: Since Australia traditionally has been popular and deeply ingrained in U.S. travelers’ minds about it being an “active” place to visit, what destinations within the large country do you recommend to those making a first trip?
IS: First-time visitors should definitely visit Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Kangaroo Island, the Great Barrier Reef and Cairns. It really depends on the length of time that they have.
SO: What are your own personal activities while Down Under?
IS: I took my family (six kids) to Australia in March and visited and enjoyed Southern Ocean Lodge, Wolgan Valley, Hayman Island, the Gold Coast and Sydney. We loved the Bridge Climb in Sydney, horseback riding, nature safaris and archery at Wolgan Valley. We walked among sea lions and did some cliff walking on Kangaroo Island while at the Southern Ocean Lodge, and explored the Great Barrier Reef and Whitehaven Beach by seaplane on Hayman.
SO: How would you advise a travel agent inquiring about booking adventure travelers to sell Australia?
IS: Seek out a good wholesaler who can give the right advice for their clients. Have a 3-way conference call with the client so that [the client] can ask first-hand the questions they need to have answers to and, in turn, the agent will learn more.
SO: Are there any previously undiscovered “hot” and “exciting” spots in Australia that are inching their way into the active traveler’s itinerary?
IS: There are always new and exciting experiences being delivered in Australia. That is why me and others in my office spend so much time exploring to find them all and assist in bringing them to market here.
SO: How do you see Australia growing as an adventure destination?
IS: It already is one of the world’s great adventure destinations and will continue to grow as such.
SO: What can new travelers expect upon landing in Australia?
IS: Friendliness and eager to impress and help from the locals.
SO: What bulk of Swain’s clients are adventure seekers and what are the company’s most popular tours?
IS: As you know, we customize every travel experience to the client’s needs. So we don’t have “popular trips” per se. We do have some popular destinations/lodges that offer extraordinary adventure experiences such as the Southern Ocean Lodge, Saffire, Silky Oaks, Wolgan Valley, Sal Salis, Bamuru Plains, True North Expedition vessels and many more.
Swain Tours: (800) 22-SWAIN; swaintours.com