Tour Operator Finds Gold Down Under

Australian Pacific Tours adds high-end and soft adventure tours to its 2003 inventory

By: Robert Carlsen

It’s not surprising that Australia and New Zealand rank near the top of international destinations for U.S. visitors. A USTOA survey of its members revealed that, outside of Europe, Australia is the most popular international destination for vacation packages and tours.

Australia, especially, lends itself to group touring. Vast distances separate the picturesque cities and attractions, and visitors tend to spend three to four weeks soaking up the atmosphere in a motorcoach rather than hopping madly airport to airport.

And New Zealand is reaping the rewards of two very popular “Lord of the Rings” movies.

Australian Pacific Touring is taking advantage of the lure of Down Under by putting its 75 years of experience behind some new itineraries and products for 2003.

According to Carla O’Brien, sales manager for the North Hollywood, Calif.-based tour operator, APT is adding a Platinum Collection of high-end tours, along with an active/soft adventure program and an emphasis on Kangaroo Island.

“Our clients spend a minimum of two weeks in Australia or New Zealand or both,” O’Brien said. “And the average is three to four weeks. We have a 28-day program to New Zealand, Australia and Fiji that’s one of our best sellers.”

The new Platinum Collection offers leisurely tours involving small groups (20 maximum) and staying at distinctive hotels, resorts and boutique city properties. The tours include meals, activities and events.

“Instead of city touring in Sydney, for example,” O’Brien said, “we take a seaplane flight over the city and have lunch on the shores of Hawkesbury River. And instead of a tour of the Opera House, we have an exclusive dinner there as well as a performance.”

The Platinum Collection properties include the Treetops Estate and Lodge in Rotoura, New Zealand, which is located in a wildlife habitat; the super-luxury, exclusive Hayman Island Resort in Australia’s Whitsunday Island chain; the new luxury tented resort, Longitude 131, in Uluru, also called Ayers Rock; and the distinguished Sydney Park Hyatt.

APT Active is geared for clients of any age, said O’Brien, and features small groups (34 maximum), motorcoach touring and opportunities to “be more active.”

Programs include diving in the colorful reef ecosystem of Lady Elliott Island, located on the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef; interpretive touring at Uluru, where clients can learn of ancient bush skills; and a canoe safari at Katherine Gorge in the Nitmiluk National Park.

APT’s Kangaroo Island tours come in two- and four-day varieties, and feature lots of wildlife viewing from four-wheel-drive Land Cruisers. Kangaroo Island, in southern Australia, is home to sea lions, kangaroos, wallabies, emus, platypuses and a host of bird life.

O’Brien said she just returned from an island excursion. “This was one of the best experiences I’ve had in Australia -- and I’m Australian,” she said. “Five minutes out of the airport and we’re looking at koalas in the trees.”

APT’s four-day version of the Kangaroo Island tour includes a one-night stay at Barossa Valley, one of Australia’s best wine districts.