When I finally decided to visit my last continent, Australia, I picked Eclipse Traveler (Lake Mary, FL; 800/276-1168) primarily because of their itinerary offering a chance to see a total solar eclipse north of Cairns.
Including a single supplement, the cost of my trip (Nov. 6-21, 2012) was $8,790, which covered round-trip airfare from Los Angeles, domestic flights in Australia and mostly 5-star hotels.
There were only 14 of us on the tour, and for some this was their fourth or fifth time seeing eclipses with Eclipse Traveler.
Arriving in Sydney, we found our hotel would be without electricity for a few days. Fortunately, the president of Eclipse Traveler, Cengiz Aras, was there and by the afternoon our group was relocated to the Westin Sydney, which I felt was in a better location.
We had a full-day tour of Sydney, took the Opera House tour and had lunch on a Sydney Harbour cruise. In the Blue Mountains, we visited Featherdale Wildlife Park and Scenic World.
Our final day in Sydney was a free day. Since we were near the King Street Wharf, I could easily walk there to see the Wild Life Sydney Zoo, which includes an area where you can get in with the kangaroos and wallabies. Also, the Sea Life Sydney Aquarium was a great way to see the local marine animals.
The following day, we boarded Quicksilver Tours’ 45.5-meter-long, high-speed catamaran for a full-day cruise at the Great Barrier Reef. At Agincourt Reef, optional activities included scuba diving for certified divers, snorkeling or riding in a semisubmersible.
The next day, Nov.14, we headed to Port Douglas for the eclipse, which started at 5:44 a.m. and lasted till 7:40. Mr. Aras got us a great spot. Back in Port Douglas, they had clouds almost all the time until the totality, then clouds again. We were lucky to see the whole spectacular eclipse. We ended up with a barbecue-style breakfast and a champagne toast.
The tour then headed to the interior of Australia, though seven members of our group were not continuing with us.
In Port Douglas, we rode the Kuranda Scenic Railway through its 15 hand-cut tunnels, glided on the Skyrail over the rainforest canopy to Caravonica Lakes and toured Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park. At the park, we learned about the ancient Aboriginal culture through stage shows and demonstrations.
In the Northern Territory, we visited the Mutitjulu water hole, saw cave paintings and learned about the legends of Kuniya Tjukurpa (Python Dreaming). We enjoyed wine while watching the changing colors of Uluru (Ayers Rock) at sunset, and we had breakfast at the great dunes of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.
After walking into Olga Gorge, with its sheer walls, at Kings Canyon we decided to take a floor tour instead of going to the top. Both sites were very interesting. It was a long drive to Alice Springs for our flight to Melbourne.
The day in Melbourne was on our own, so through the concierge at the Langham Hotel Melbourne I booked a tour with Australian Sightseeing Day Tours (phone 1300 655 965).
For AUD95 ($88), “City Sights and Yarra River Cruise” included pickup and drop-off, a one-hour cruise and a half-day motorcoach tour of the city, visiting Fitzroy Gardens, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Shrine of Remembrance, a memorial to WWI veterans. Melbourne was a great contrast to Sydney and I would recommend visits to both cities.
This trip had just what I wanted to see in Australia: some cities and ancient cultural areas, with an added event, the eclipse. I would definitely recommend Eclipse Traveler for the included tours and great accommodations. All in all, it was a great trip.