East Coast Touring Programs
01.01.2011 25 °C
Taking a tour with the same people for 12-14-days is something to be seriously considered
- you may have limited time
- you may like the idea of everything being paid for up-front
- you may want someone to organise everything for you
Let me define a tour: a fixed amount of days; you cannot get on and off the bus where you choose; accommodation and most meals are included, and you travel with the same people for the entire trip. It's a fairly laid back way to travel for those with limited time. You could be on a working holiday visa and have a great job in Sydney or Melbourne so you just want to get the east coast over and done with. Tours can be a fantastic way to see places, but they will probably cost you a little more money.
The two tours I like best on the east coast are run by Top Deck and Adventure Tours Australia. They're both 14-days long. You can start in Cairns and head south to Sydney, or start in Sydney and head to Cairns. Personally I'd prefer to finish in Cairns: it's a laid back town without all the stress and rush of a big city. You can ease out of your holiday without too much worry.
Both top Deck and Adventure Tours have trips that include the word "Sun": Top Deck names the tour "Island Suntanner", and Adventure Tours is named "Suncatcher". Not very original, but it’s not about the name, it’s about the content.
PRICE: Top Deck's high-season price is $263 cheaper than Adventure Tours ($2450 v $2713).
INCLUDED ACTIVITIES: Adventure Tours includes a surf lesson, a Fraser Island 4WD trip and a Whitsunday Islands sailing trip. This adds up to around $400; however, Top Deck includes a Whitsunday Islands sailing trip, travel to Fraser Island, an Aboriginal dance show and dinner, and a trip on the Rainforest Cable-Car in Cairns. Top Deck offers a one day 4WD guided trip of Fraser Island. The Adventure Tours 4WD trip is what's known as "tag-a-long." Simply put: you drive your own 4WD with 4-6 people inside. Your driver/guide takes the lead vehicle and you follow them. Both companies offer good accommodation on Fraser Island - NO CAMPING, which is a bonus.
In my opinion it's hard to fault the included activities except to say that Top Deck include more of them, and the tour is still cheaper so Top Deck offers more value here.
MEALS: Top Deck includes 13 breakfasts, 1 lunch, and 6 dinners. Adventure Tours offers 11 breakfasts, 8 dinners, and 4 lunches. So overall Adventure Tours offers more meals, but it's unfair to judge the tours on this due to the circumstances of where you are. To explain: sometimes it’s better not to include dinner in some places. It encourages you to explore the town and try different things. In my mind the one thing you always do together is eat breakfast so to me more breakfasts is the most important thing.
ACCOMMODATION: Top Deck wins this one easily simply because they don't use any backpacker accommodation. Adventure Tours uses backpacker accommodation just about everywhere they can yet they still charge more for the tour. Tours are supposed to be more upmarket and comfortable than backpacking so why Adventure Tours chooses a lower standard of accommodation is a mystery. I've been involved in tours for a long time and one thing I know is that you don't mix tour style accommodation with backpacker accommodation. To be fair some backpacker accommodation in Australia is fantastic and worthy of tour customers, but it's still called a backpackers hostel. Both companies offer upgrades to twin and double rooms, but again an upgrade in a backpacker hostel may mean very little in the way of comfort. At the end of the day, during the night, and in the morning it's still a backpacker’s hostel.
OVERNIGHT STOPS: Top Deck starts from Sydney with a long drive to Byron Bay. Once there you spend two nights in Byron drive a couple of hours north to the Gold Coast for another couple of nights. So after the long drive it's a nice easy next few days. Adventure Tours drives from Sydney to a place called Arrawara (Spot-X Surf Camp), which is about 3-hours south of Byron Bay making it slightly less of a long day. They too spend two nights in Byron then spend another day travelling to Rainbow Beach. Both companies service the best locations on the east coast. Some days long, some days short, and some days no travel at all. They both offer excellent itineraries.
STAFF: Top Deck tours carry two crew: A driver, and a trip leader. Adventure Tours offer just one driver/guide. Given that Adventure Tours have half the crew of Top Deck you'd think that Adventure Tours would be cheaper, but as I've pointed out, they aren't. Having a driver and a trip leader on trip that covers such a vast distance is a good thing. It's also something you might expect on a proper tour. Having a non-driving guide means they're free to spend more time with you in the evenings and during the day. It means they're 100% focussed on you and your holiday. Having one driver/guide, as Adventure Tours do, means a lot of work for one person. They surely must have restrictions on socialising in the evening so they're safe to drive the next day. I'm not saying that Adventure Tours is any less of a tour because of this, what I'm saying is that I believe you'd be better looked after with one person driving and one person looking after you.
After closely reviewing both these 14-day East Coast tours my conclusion is that Top Deck is better value for money. Not just because they are cheaper, not at all. Accommodation: no backpacker hostels; staff: two crew instead of Adventure Tours one crew. I must also add that Top Deck use 37-seat coaches while Adventure Tours advertise 24-seat minibuses. I have heard that Adventure Tours are moving away from 24-seat minibuses to a more comfortable 14-seat minivan, which is a good idea. In terms of comfort I prefer coaches.
You might be lucky to walk into a travel agent that recommended both these trips. Very lucky. Most would only offer one or the other. So choose carefully and be sure to ask lots of questions, especially about where you sleep at night.