Touring with a commercial bus company

One essential for a good bus trip is a great driver – not just competent behind the wheel but also calm, friendly and with a sense of humour. I nominate Alan!  He was standing in the car park near the Franz Josef Glacier walk indicating the way to the bus for the returning walkers. This was his response to my comment that he was the most animated road sign I had seen for a while.

Julie and I qualify as seasoned travellers – not in the number of trips or places we have been but in our forms of travel. In this order we have camped, caravaned, river cruised, railed and bused in Australia and overseas.

I’d like to consider what goes into making a good bus trip. When we have been travelling around Australia we have found short bus trips ideal ways to get places you can’t manage without 4 wheel drive car and driving experience. Examples of great 1 day trips were into the Bungle Bungles and from Broome to Cape Levique. Overseas we found bus tours, either the hop on/off kind with a recorded commentary or those led by a real guide are great introductions to a city. I prefer the second sort even though they are more expensive because you get the chance to interact with a real person.

We are now entering the 3rd week of a New Zealand Coach Tour with AAT Kings. We chose this because of the fabulous experience we had with a 11 day tour of Italy with Trafalgar had convinced us this was the least stressful,  most time efficient way to see a country in a short time, although certainly not the cheapest.

Another essential is a good Tour Director. Those who followed my blog through Europe might remember Barbara who was excellent. So is Vaille, here demonstrating one of his prime responsibilities – that of keeping us awake on the bus! An interesting commentary is essential, as is answering crazy questions in a credible manner, sorting out the schedule, being always polite to the passengers, staying calm when others aren’t and most importantly NOT LOSING LUGGAGE OR PASSENGERS.

Aside from the Driver and Director who are essential, these are some things that help make a tour successful.

  • Bus not too crowded – a few spare seats make a big difference.
  • A variety of travel companions who are friendly, flexible and prepared to help each other out.
  • A range of nationalities makes things more interesting.
  • So does a range of backgrounds such as work. A bus full of all school teachers (or whatever) would be bad!
  • Understanding the different needs of single people travelling as part of the group.
  • Some space in the schedule to separate and chill out.
  • Regular stops, not just for food and toilet but to do something and move.
  • This might seem inconsistent but Age differences do count. I have seen adult children travelling very successfully with a parent but most of my two coach tourists have been 50+ and I suspect that travellers younger that 40 would probably struggle to fit in.there are coach companies that specialise in young groups
  • Good weather helps.

Decisions on Transport Modes

We leave in about 12 days and most of the planning (and paying!) has been done over the past year. We always knew that we wanted to start our trip in Italy with a accompanied tour and finish with a Rhine River Cruise, but spend our time in France and Britain making our own way and arrangements for transport, accommodation and activities.

Our Italian tour is with Trafalgar and the Rhine with Avalon. I will give more details later. We have booked accommodation in Paris, London, Edinburgh, Amsterdam and Prague, leaving France and England outside the capitals to arrange as we go.

For transport we have chosen trains throughout the continent and a hire car for England/Wales/Scotland. A five day rail pass for two countries covers Northern Italy and France, we have booked the cross Channel fare from Paris to London, air travel from Edinburgh to Amsterdam (via London – the direct flights were ridiculously expensive) but are now looking for our link from Budapest to Prague. I didn’t realise how far it was until I found the the train trip via Vienna tales more than 7 hours. Travel forums suggest that air travel takes nearly as long once you allow for baggage exchange and transport to and from the airport, so train it is and during the day so that we at least say we have seen Eastern Europe.

The unanswered question comes to First or Second? We are happy to take second class in Italy, France and England because they are short trips but 7 hours is a long time to be crushed into a small space. I have checked the forums who mostly plump for second’s as quite comfortable. The question that follows is “who writes most forum posts? – are they young flexible tourists travelling on the smell of an oily rag rather the sexagenarian arthritic types more
like Julie and I.

We will find out and let you know in 10 weeks.

An Early End – a New Plan

Farewell Mal

Mal’s red hair was gone but his spirit was strong ,back in June when we visited him before our trip.

On Monday 11th we farewelled our brother-in-law Malcolm Stuart at the Tumbarumba Presbyterian Church and the cemetery. The funeral filled the church and its hall to overflow – Mal was a big man, well-loved by his family and friends and widely respected within this rural community. In his life he had an enormous impact on so many people. As his son reported in the eulogy Mal loved to talk with people – wherever he was, whoever they were and about a wide range of interests. We will all miss him greatly.

Robyn Stuart with a small part of  Malcolm’s large family after the funeral when we had a chance to remember how Mal had influenced all our lives


Every trip, like a good story, needs a beginning, a middle and an end. It’s nice if the end has potential – hope.

The germination of our trip was long and slow. When we travelled through Central Australia more than thirty years ago, camping in tents with two very young children, we said on return that we wanted to see the West but it would need to wait. The actual planning probably took 2 years, gradually building momentum as departure got closer. This blog covered the month before we left until now.

The middle I think was our time after we left the Eastern States. We had previously travelled extensively in the East,  South Australia and the Northern Territory so it was Western Australia and the Kimberley that was so new, a landscape beautiful in an almost alien way, best described by Mary Durack.

If one were to paint this country in it’s true colours,I doubt it would ever be believed. It would be said at least that the artist exaggerated greatly,for never have I seen such richness and variety of hue as in these ranges.”

The distances were enormous, the populations scattered and small without the influx bought into the Pilbarra by the mining boom in minerals and oil and my favourite town of all would have to be Broome. As Ernie Dingo and Missy Higgins sing in Bran Nui Dai ” Soon I’ll be dreaming in Broome” “.

Our trip really ended in Tumbarumba with Mal’s funeral.  We may not end up getting home for five or six weeks, but we have neither the time nor the heart to drive back across the Nullabor and complete what we had planned – Perth to Esperance through what is reputed to be some of the most beautiful countryside in our country.

We will be back, however. Maybe next year or the one after  …. there will be a gap but stay tuned for the next instalment


  • We travelled for 101 days – 14 weeks and 3 days
  • We travelled for 16, 600 km – mostly towing the caravan at an average speed of 75 km but attempting to cruise at 90 kph on country roads.
  • We used  about 1070 litres of fuel paying up to $1.80 per litre. When travelling it sometimes cost $150 per day
  • We made seventeen different tours starting with a winery tour in Mudgee  and ending with our sailing with Dugongs at Shark Bay. We found the tour guides to be always informative and passionate about where they live even if they had taken the same tour with similar tourists a thousand times before
  • We took advantage of volunteers wherever possible
  • We spoke to our fellow travellers regularly – they were better than any written travel guides. Through such conversations we decided to stay in Lake Argyll and Coral Bay which were highlights of our trip.
  • Australia is an amazing country – if you possibly can – get out there and see it!


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Coral Bay to Denham

Goodbye to Coral Bay

After a week of doing very little except snorkelling twice a day amidst the coral and tropical fish on our last two days in Coral Bays we planned a couple of excursions. On the Wednesday we tossed up between a 5 hour eco excursion to the outer reef to swim amongst the giant Manta Rays and look for whales and dugongs (which have become a real desire for Julie to see) or a shorter 3 hour trip in a glass bottomed boat to visit the feeding grounds of the Green turtle and snorkel on the inner reef. We chose the latter, not prepared to risk 5 hours on a boat considering Julie’s vertigo and Gary’s chronic sea sickness. Thursday Gary planned to join a kayak safari to paddle the three km to the reef, snorkel on pristine sites that you cannot get to without a boat and then paddle back. Unfortunately – it takes four to justify a safari and there was just Gary so it was just a last snorkel off the beach and then a goodbye photograph to help remember Coral Bay .

The sun has set some time ago but the water is warm and these children want to squeeze the last minutes out of a beautiful day


The trip to the inner reef was excellent. We passed across turtle feeding grounds where the boat was surrounded by Green Turtles, diving for food the rising for a breath and it was easy to photograph them.


Swimming just below the surface in this feeding zone this Green Turtle is unconcerned by the boat and the tourists



The trouble with being an air breathing animal in the water is having to interrupt your meal to come up for a breath

Any photographs I took of the coral through the glass bottomed boat were very disappointing in comparison with reality, so I choose not to post them. In the water snorkelling I had a disposable underwater film camera to capture the coral, the brilliantly coloured fish and my closeup encounters with Green Turtles but I will have to wait until I reach Perth to get them  printed and hopefully scan the best for posting. If I ever came to areas like this again I would buy an underwater digital camera – a fellow traveller had a little Olympus rated for 10 metres which had cost about $300 – good value to be able to see and share your underwater experiences.

Crossing the 26th Parallel

Our trip from Coral Bay to Denham (via shopping stop in Carnarvon) was one of our longest days – our latest arrival at nearly 5 pm. It involved a crossing of the 26th parallel going south and then recrossing it going north up into the World Heritage area of Shark Bay. Denham is the most Western town in Australia and our Caravan Park is on the beach facing just the Indian Ocean, shielded by Dirk Hartog Island, site of the first European landing  in Australian waters. It is our access point to Monkey Mia with tours of Shark Bay and the famous visiting dolphins.

Going Off Road in a Ford Sedan?

A dozen km off the bitumen with Valentine Springs in the background. Maybe safe for a swim?

We choose to tow our small van with an ordinary 6 cylinder Ford sedan rather than the four-wheel drive specialty vehicles that caravan  parks are full of. This means we can’t get into places like the Bungle Bungles and Wolfe Creek Meteorite site which have really bad roads. Yesterday, however we thought we would check out three of the sites off the highway marked on a tourist brochure. We weren’t towing the van – just going for a morning drive. The road was well graded dirt, for the first 12 km and we stopped at Valentine Springs for a photo opportunity. It is a small pool and we have spoken to tourists who have swum there because it looks to small for a croc. They apparently are not aware that in the dry season, now, crocodiles are very mobile, travelling at night looking for better water sources and could well just choose to spend the day in a pool like this – you could be very unlucky!

Middle Springs is tucked under the escarpment and a good km from the road along a track with drifts of sand and dust a metre deep.

A hot walk rather than get bogged so far from help.

Further down the road, the entrance track to Middle Springs was very rough, but Julie, who was driving, managed very well for 500 metres before looking ahead at the deep dust and sand and saying no further! I left her and the car and hiked down the track with a 20 minute time limit. I soon agreed with her assessment of the driving conditions. The Ford would have been stranded in the deep sand ruts within another 100 metres and it was a km to the Spring, no mobile reception and we only saw 2 vehicles on the road the time we were there so being rescued might have been difficult.

Ivanhoe Crossing, looking North across the Ord River. Would you try crossing this in a sedan? Look at the speck just before the dam wall.

Our last planned stop on the circuit back to Kununurra was to cross the Ord River at the Ivanhoe Crossing. Ten km On the other side was a Cafe at a Mango farm promising the best Mango Smoothie in WA! The crossing was very picturesque – steep approaches both sides, 30 cm of water running very fast across the very slippery pavement and signs every whereabout crocodile danger. No way for our kind of car! So it was reverse back the hill, retrace our path 30 km, then come a further 20 km to get to the other side for a photo opportunity and a mango smoothie.

Some times in the this part of the world a four-wheel drive vehicle would be handy , saving 50 km and an hour to cross 200 metres across a river.

The speck turns out to be a freshwater crocodile.

The water might not wash your car off the crossing but if you stopped midway across and tried to walk back, this croc’s big cousin

is waiting for any opportunity for a heartier lunch than a mango smoothie.

This guy hardly slowed down enough for the croc to take his number.

Canberra – Capital Place to find

Canberra is one of those National capitals that were developed out of nowhere – in this case built on the pastures of sheep stations because the State Capitals,  Sydney and Melbourne were neither prepared to have the other pre eminent in the new Nation of Australia. Some people find such places over planned and soulless, compared with places which just grew from scratch, but I love the way that planning, time and money can bring not only amazing facilities, but also a design which fits people and function into the environment. The photo below is a panorama, and I am not sure how it will display, of the water cleansing lake/pond at an outer Canberra suburb of Dunlop, where my son Daniel and his family live. The fact that this was built before housing, complete with walking paths and horse trails, with monuments acknowledging the work of the surveyors who spent years mapping the area is what makes Canberra special – and then there are the people – not all politicians and public servants – some of them are soldiers like Daniel and his family.

The other special people , for us are our grandchildren. We spent a morning walking and riding scooters around Lake Burley Griffin near the National Art Gallery

Bradley (6) and Imogen (4) decided to hide in the Autum colored gardens from their little brother.

While Tyler (nearly 3) was most unimpressed that they had left him out.