Coincidentally, the person who won that contest has become a reader of this blog and we asked her to tell us about her trip. Hey, if we couldn't go, at least we can tell you about the person who did.
And so, we introduce you to Denise Perrier who wrote about her 10 week Australia adventure for us. She also supplied some of her beautiful photographs from that trip!
Take it away Denise...!
Denise Perrier, winner of the Australia contest.
I won a $12,000 trip to Australia!! This all sounds so easy and such a great thing but getting to the point where it was all booked, was an adventure in itself.
In February of 2012, I found a website called South Pacific Experiences as I was trying to find a way to get to Fiji to meet my cousin from New Zealand. I also liked their page on Facebook and when they announced a contest to win a trip to Australia in March 2012, I entered it as this was my next planned dream destination. The contest had 9 locations in Australia and as an entrant I had to pick one location and write a 100 word essay about what I would do there if I won the contest. I picked Darwin as my choice location and wrote truly from my heart about taking the Ghan train into Darwin and experiencing life in the Northern Territory. My great friends on Facebook supported me and voted daily and in the end, I won the Darwin category.
Once the contest ended, the South Pacific Experiences group said the winner would be announced shortly. I waited patiently for over a week and I heard nothing. I basically gave up waiting and decided to go shopping for the afternoon and when I got home at 5:20 pm there was a voicemail telling me I had until 5:00 pm to call in as I was the potential winner. My saving grace was the telephone call was from Vancouver and with the hour time difference it gave me 40 minutes to spare. Apparently they had sent an email which I never received and if I hadn’t called in on time they would have picked a new winner. As the potential winner, I was required to do some paperwork which they mailed to me and it took a week to receive. I filled it all out and sent it in and it was accepted until she told me I was missing the Winners Affidavit, I had filled out everything but she hadn’t sent this one. I had her send to me, got it completed and back to her in the timeline she had set for me. It was a frustrating and not an easy process but I finally got through it all and was declared the winner. Phew…..
Once I was declared the winner, I was contacted by the company and they assigned me to a travel agent in Calgary at South Travel. Donna was great to work with and we discussed my thoughts and desires of what I would like to do on this trip. She then submitted this all to Qantas Vacations, they in turn, would come back with a planned itinerary and a cost. The first plans came with a cost of $24,000 and I kept cutting back and until it was in alignment with my budget as the $12,000 would be a credit allotted once I booked everything. My preference for travel is to use budget hotels as long as they are clean and safe, I basically compared Qantas Vacations much like booking with Air Canada Vacations as the hotels were are on the higher end of the pricing but over all they use quality hotels and tour operators.
I shared my win with my friend Maureen and we decided to travel on separate dates as she had only 4 weeks of vacation while I wanted to be gone 10 weeks as I am single and retired. I left January 27, 2013 for Sydney, Australia arriving on January 29th. I spent the night there and then flew over to Auckland, New Zealand for 3 weeks with my cousin Trace who immigrated there as teenager in 1974. I had previously been to New Zealand 3 years prior to this and I did a tour of the South Island on that trip. Trace and I did a little adventure tour for a few days around the Coromandel and down to Mount Taranaki near New Plymouth. Maureen joined me two weeks later and we rented car and drove to the north part of New Zealand to the Bay of Islands. We discovered the most reasonable accommodations are Holiday Parks, they have both room for campers, trailers and motel rooms. From the Bay of Islands we did a boat tour of the Bay where saw wild dolphins jumping in and out of the water. The next day we took a tour to the 90 Mile Beach (it is only 55 miles long). This one of the most spectacular things you can do in New Zealand as it is isolated and remote and absolutely beautiful. At the very northern top end is gorgeous Cape Reinga which is scared to the Maori as they believe this is where your spirit leaves the island once you pass away.
We left New Zealand and headed back to Sydney, Australia on February 20th and we had a lovely hotel in The Rocks area which put us very near the Sydney Harbour.
The Sydney Opera House. Photo by Denise Perrier.
Sydney is a very big city (6 Million people), the business centre of Australia and either you go for a few days see the tourist highlights and then leave or stay and really dig into the place. With only 5 days there, we explored the downtown and harbour area, did the free Rocks Tour which has an incredible history, went to Bondi Beach and did a tour to the Blue Mountains and Featherdale Wildlife Park. The eating out food costs in Australia are very high compared to Canada as the service work force in Australia is paid much more than Canada. We discovered from a tour guide that you can go into any club that has food service and get signed in a guest and eat at much more reasonable prices. The food often tends to pub fare but it is tasty and we ate the Rugby Club in downtown Sydney. The weather in Sydney was fairly rainy, windy and unsettled for some of the days but we made the best of it and keep exploring.
From Sydney we took the Country Link train (a 12 hour trip) to Melbourne, it was nice to see the countryside and it was very comfortable but something I would not do again as the train travels the back country, so you don’t see Canberra. If given a choice to travel to Melbourne again, I would take the plane for quicker travel or a bus would have taken us along the coastline or through Canberra and the mountains in the same amount of time. In Melbourne we discovered a wonderful city full of life and history. Melbourne along with being a business centre has a great feeling for the arts and culture. We did a tour called Lanes and Arcades which involved exploring the alleys and arcades which was a precursor to shopping malls. One great memory I have is the colorful Australian Macaroons which you see in most all of the bake shops.
Melbourne Macaroons. Photo by Denise Perrier.
The weather continued to be wet and rainy but we ventured on tour of Great Ocean Road heading west of Melbourne along the southern coastline. The tour stopped at Bells Beach, which is famous for surfing, we had our first experience seeing wild kangaroos and the biggest and best on this adventure was my first helicopter ride over the Twelve Apostles.
The Great Ocean Road seen from a helicopter! Photo by Denise Perrier.
I loved the street cars in Melbourne but you have to be very careful crossing roads and often the street car platforms are in the middle of roads which can be a bit unnerving. Our hotel was on the South Bank beside the Eureka Tower (88 stories) and we had a quick walk over to the downtown area and hopped the free downtown streetcars when venturing further to explore the city. Finally later in the week the weather broke and it became sunny and warm which continued for the remainder of my trip in Australia.
The adventure continued as we flew over to Hobart, Tasmania.
Hobart Harbour, Tasmania. Photo by Denise Perrier.
The city of Hobart seen from Mount Wellington. Photo by Denise Perrier.
Our hotel room was in the first casino that was established in Australia, a little out of Hobart but still manageable. We had no formal tours booked through the tour package but once there we wanted to see more and we booked several tours. The first one was to see MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) an experience to say the least. We took a ferry up the river to get to MONA and the captain of the ferry said there is something for everyone to hate at MONA. I personally loved the architecture of the building but the collection ranged from very old art to some strange and very unusual items. The next day we toured to Port Arthur, the site of prison for the worst convicts sent to Australia along with a rocking boat tour down the coastline where saw the tall towering coastal cliff along with seals and many birds.
Australian Fur Seal in Tasmania. Photo by Denise Perrier.
The last day in Tasmania was spent touring up to the top of Mount Wellington which offered fabulous views of the coastline and Hobart. In this tour we also went to the botanical gardens, a wildlife park (more koalas) and a pretty little town called Richmond with the oldest bridge in Tasmania. Given another opportunity to visit Australia, I would definitely come back here and plan a lot more time to explore the island which is about the same size as Newfoundland.
We flew off to Adelaide next which was very hot at 38C and it was very dry compared to Sydney and Melbourne. We first of all did a tour to Kangaroo Island where we only saw a couple of kangaroos by the way but the island is very interesting and well worth the experience of being there. The day we spent was touring around seeing Sea Lions, fur seals and wild koalas.
Cuddly wild koala. Photo by Denise Perrier.
The tour guide we had was a local gentleman that was very informative about the island and its history. Adelaide is famous for being the big wine producing area of Australia and we did a wine tour to McLaren Vale and the Adelaide Hills. The best part was being able to actually speak to owner of a vineyard and learning about the grape growing process. Maureen`s last day of travelling with me was in Adelaide and we spent her last day at Glenelg on the beach and later on at pub watching the great sunset. Once Maureen left to return to Canada, I spent the next few days exploring downtown Adelaide and Cleland Wildlife Park along with a boat tour to see the dolphins.
(We're only half way through the trip...stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow!)