This winter we are excited to be going “Down Under”! We visited briefly three years ago on our World Cruise and wanted to come back before we were too creaky to really enjoy that Australian outdoor lifestyle.
There was a problem: Bob hated the idea of the long distance flights. So, we decided we would have to look at decent length stopovers in both directions. Not just refuelling stops. At first, we were rather dismayed to find these sorts of flights were pretty expensive and Australia itself isn’t cheap. Hostels were more expensive than the average Travelodge in the UK. It began to look a bit unaffordable, to be honest, as a long-stay location.
Then, as these things do, an email dropped into my Inbox from Cruise1st. It was offering a couple of sections of the Cunard QM2 World Cruise, from Southampton to Sydney, 45 nights, including flights home and at a discounted price that meant we could have 1 cruise/flight fare for the price of two return flights. When you couple that with free food and board for 6 weeks and visits to exotic ports, it seemed a great offer. We would get the whole winter away, and a decent and affordable length of time in Australia. We booked it.
Our 45 night voyage takes a south easterly route from the UK, down around Africa and then across the Indian Ocean, and around western and southern Australia. There are a lot of sea days, hence the cheap price. Many people don’t like sea days and would opt to pick QM2 up in Sydney and cruise home on a more port intensive route. In addition to the cruise we have arranged to get off the ship for a 4 day independent road trip in South Africa: driving from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, the Garden Route, visiting vineyards, game parks, crocodile rivers and seeing some amazing scenery along the way. We re-join QM2 in Port Elizabeth for our onward journey.
After our cruise, we have 5 weeks touring up and down the eastern coast of Australia. It was quite challenging to plan, mainly because the country is so huge and you have to constantly fight the temptation to do too much. We wanted to be able to enjoy the area, not spend every day or even every other day in the car. So, we have had to put northern Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef off for another time. We will be exploring the area between Sydney in the south, and Noosa Heads in the north, visiting both the coast and the hinterland. We’re using our timeshare weeks, Airbnb and Marriott points for accommodation. As I said, Australia is not cheap. I doubt we could afford to tour this long if we didn’t have the accommodation options. Well… we could do a house-sit. I did look at that and it is a great scheme, but not quite what we wanted to do this time.-
And so, with Christmas and New Year out of the way, and our sailing date of January 10th approaching fast, we are beginning to prepare for our trip. In fact, “preparing” also means getting the house ready as well as ourselves. There’s a certain load of tasks to be done when you go away for a long period of time. Obviously, insurances have to be in place, periodic daughterly visits and stays have to be arranged to check up on things….. tender tropical plants have to be wrapped up in their straw bags against the frosts. Freezers and fridges have to be run down to a minimum food level, bins have to be emptied and managed so we are not leaving any refuse that won’t be collected. Post must be kept back for us via the Royal Mail Keep-safe service. It’s pretty rubbish to he honest. Maximum of 65 days or something like that and you have to be very careful about when you start it because on the 66th day they WILL deliver the lot, come hell or high water…..
We’ve had a fantastic December. Lots and lots of family to stay as well as visits to friends and family. Inevitably, the house needs a thorough change, clean and tidy from top to bottom. I only do the minimum when people come to stay – too many better things to be doing. But before we go away, I like to have a really deep clean of the house so that when we come back, it’s to immaculate tidiness. Well…. maybe a bit of dust, but no more. I especially like to change our bedding at the last minute, so that we come back to lovely crisp sheets. That way, coming home just feels like another fabulous stop along the way, hopefully the best of all!
And there’s all the paperwork to get ready. Now, I know…. these days most of the flights, hotels and other arrangements are all done online electronically. However, experience has shown me that it is also prudent to have all the bookings on paper. Otherwise you can be driving through some remote spot as night falls, trying to find your accommodation and your phone signal runs out….best to have a backup. We are touring a lot this winter so there was quite a folder to put together. Bob tends to book car hire, flights and diving. I book hotels, excursions and tours. So, it must be merged. The only visa we needed this time was for Australia and that’s an electronic system and free, so that was easy. We have a stack of euros and some South African rand and Australian dollars as starters.
Then there’s the whole subject of packing. This winter, apart from about 3 days at the start, we’ll be in hot weather, so that helps. However, although we are cruising out to Australia, we are flying home in economy so we are limited to 30kg checked baggage each. Unlike P&O, Cunard does not allow you to ship baggage onwards on the ship, so that wasn’t an option. I looked at their White Star Luggage Service (which is basically FedEx) and it was a fortune. 400 dollars for one suitcase home from Sydney. No way! Aircraft extra baggage is also very expensive. So, we are going to have to be very careful what we pack.
We are taking “supplies” onto the cruise to help minimise costs whilst aboard i.e. 20 litres of wine, washing capsules, toiletries, sun products. But they will get used up before we fly home so we don’t have to worry about their weight. We have to take a certain amount of evening clothes which won’t be used once we get off, so that’s got to be factored in. We’ll just have to weigh our stuff very carefully.
In fact the packing has worked out much more easily than we envisaged. Perhaps we’re just getting cannier at what to pack for these long stays/voyages and don’t over pack anymore. Anyway, we have got everything into 3 large suitcases, 2 cabin bags and 2 handbags. One of the large suitcases is essentially the “supplies” case so by the time we come home that will be empty and we can just spread the clothes out across three cases. Singapore Airlines gives us a weight limit not a piece limit so that’s fine.