EYES OF A STRANGER
AAUSTRALIANS HAVE NOMINATED OUR TOP TOURIST ATTRACTIONS - BUT HOW MANY CAN FOREIGN VISITORS SEE IN JUST SIX DAYS?
nothing like Australia . . . just ask the locals. That’s what Tourism Australia did for its newest marketing campaign, and 29,000 locals sent in what they thought are our best tourist attractions. The top eight, decided by a nation-wide competition, are Uluru in the Northern Territory (No.1), our own Kangaroo Island, Cathedral Gorge in Western Australia, Sydney Harbour Bridge, Melbourne’s street scenes, the Great Barrier Reef and Tasmania’s Cradle Mountain.
But how does that list sit in the overseas market? Do Asian tourists, for example, want to see what Aussies hold dear? Apparently so. According to Tourism Australia, Uluru and the Great Barrier Reef sit right up there with Sydney Harbour, our wildlife and wilderness, as Asian favourites.
China is Australia’s fourth largest inbound tourist market and the second largest in terms of economic value (the UK still tops the list). Chinese tourists list shopping as their favoured activity, followed by sightseeing, wining and dining, visiting our beaches, then national parks. For the Japanese, food and wine come first, then shopping, sightseeing, the beach, national parks and wildlife.
So how well do we cater for the Asian market? There’s really only one way to find out – and that is to travel “Asian style”.
I volunteered to take a tour which is typical of those that many Asian visitors book. It’s a tough job (and I’m not kidding) but someone had to do it. Asian visitors generally have only a short time in which to fit in all these activities, so they run themselves ragged, cramming in a seemingly impossible list of “must sees”. In just six days we travel from Tasmania to Port Douglas, tackling a manic-paced itinerary that would have most Aussies choking on their barbecued prawns.
DAY ONE ASIA TO TASMANIA
The journey starts with a long haul from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to Melbourne. A 10.30pm start (the night before), an eight-hour flight and a connecting flight to Launceston and you might expect a rest. Not likely. There’s a three-hour drive to Cradle Mountain ahead. Just outside of Launceston is our first (of many) stops, at The Gourmet Sauce Co. In 40 minutes we have tasted, toured the property, scoffed lunch and shopped. I could have spent hours watching sunlight glint through crab apple trees, but the group is heading for the minivan. Rolling green hills and quaint towns have cameras snapping. The wilderness has woven its magic – just like the statistics predicted.
Cradle Mountain Lodge welcomes us at the end of an already long day. We’d love to curl up in our toasty log cabins but we have a date with the Tasmanian devil. We pat (they’re actually quite cute), we learn (the mangier a devil’s bottom, the hotter this carnivorous marsupial is – to female devils), and we watch them eat (not a pretty sight).
Our own dinner sets the trend for the next six nights. It’s easy to overlook the importance of meal times on some tours – but not if you’re catering for Asian visitors – they have high expectations. The Lodge’s Highland Restaurant doesn’t disappoint.
DAY 2 CRADLE MOUNTAIN
With a view of lake, lodge, mountains and mist, it’s hard to leave my room. The Aussie thing to do would be to spend days here relaxing, reading (there is no TV) and exploring. The Asian thing, however, is to admire the view, take a photo and move on. Wombats and kangaroos wander around the lodge . . . tick wildlife off the wish-list.
On the agenda today is a hike around Dove Lake, massage, shopping, wine tasting and dinner. We are blessed with clear skies and a full (and rare) view of Cradle Mountain. The 6.6km path is easy going but Young Lim, a journalist from Singapore, looks concerned. Now that we have seen the lake, he’s not sure we need to walk “all the way around it”. Here’s where we differ . . . while Aussies love to walk on the wild side, Asians prefer to wake with the wild side in view but not necessarily in their face. Ten minutes in and we reach a boat shed. The scene looks familiar – it was a finalist in the Tourism Australia campaign. “This is enough now,” Young whispers. “Singaporeans would have walked here, taken a photo and then gone.”
DAY 3 ONE END OF AUSTRALIA TO THE OTHER
Today is a blur of cars and planes. The drive back to Launceston takes much longer after we add stops at
Ashgrove Cheese Factory, Raspberry Farm and colourful Sheffield, a town which boasts an annual Mural Festival. We fly to Sydney, then Cairns, where a limousine delivers us to Port Douglas just in time to check in to the Mercure Port Douglas Treetops Resort and Spa and hit the sack.
DAY 4 GREAT BARRIER REEF
Today we get to meet Marvin, the giant Maori wrasse on the Great Barrier Reef. Australia has already been introduced to Marvin – he was another finalist in the “There’s nothing like” campaign. Our Calypso cruise shows why . . . the weather is mild, the water clear and the underwater scenes of neon fish and coral gardens unforgettable. And then there is Marvin with his big blubbery lips, sliding in close for a pat and picture.
“This is a perfect day,” Young says. It appears that while Asians are frill seekers at heart, they also love the thrill of discovering new “soft” adventures. Poolside dinner tonight is a salute to all things Australian – including citrus croc and flambeed kangaroo.
DAY 5 PORT DOUGLAS TO BRISBANE
The Anzac Park markets offer a taste of the casual lifestyle in tropical Port Douglas. It’s a laid-back, sprawling town with resort after resort. Another few days and I might start to relax. But we’re off again, to Cairns then Brisbane. A City Cat ferry ride (Brisbane’s answer to buses) gives a passing glimpse of the locals making the most of waterfront leisure spots on our way to Powerhouse, home to live music, comedy and exhibitions, and the Brisbane Eye for a birds-eye view of the city. The Sofitel Brisbane Central is home for the night. Only one luxurious sleep here is just cruel.
DAY 6 BRISBANE TO GOLD COAST
Today is huge. A shot of culture at the Gallery of Modern Art, then a helicopter ride to Sirromet, Queensland’s biggest winery. According to Young, this is the kind of soft adventure that Asians love. It’s exciting and serves a purpose – getting us to the next attraction. A tour of the winery makes me wish for a bottle and time to enjoy the view – but time is what we’re short of. We’re off to Dreamworld to fit into a few hours what most Aussies do in a whole day. A few of us tackle the Tower of Terror and the Giant Drop. Everyone lines up to cuddle a koala. But patting a tiger has to be the ultimate thrill. Mohan is a 200kg mass of muscle who is happy slurping a milk ice-cube while we carefully crouch next to him. As with all good tours, this one has saved the best till last. Our final night is at the Sofitel Gold Coast. On the agenda? Just dinner . . . a long, relaxed dinner prepared by the On3 restaurant staff. Tonight we can catch our breath. After six days of “Asian style” touring, I need a holiday to recover. I admire the stamina of my travelling companions. They are going home a little exhausted but full of bragging rights and happy to have ticked off most things on their wishlists. They will spread the word about Australia, and they will return. It just goes to show, there’s nothing like Australia . . . just ask the Asians.
The boat shed at Dove Lake, Cradle Mountain. The Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane.
Snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef.
Marvin, the giant Maori wrasse on the Great Barrier Reef.