When I was 18, my parents sent me away to Australia on a two-week Rotary exchange. It wasn't really that bad, and I went willingly — Australia is, of course, an easy three-hour hop across the pond when you live in New Zealand. At that point in my life, I'd already been to "Aussie" a few times, but this first solo trip was something special. I stayed with a family just outside Melbourne in a town called Ballarat. Waking up to the smell of eucalyptus, the laughing kookaburra and nightly snorting koalas hanging out in the gum trees was a true Aussie experience.
Every trip I've taken to Australia since then has been remarkable, and that is saying something coming from a Kiwi — the friendly rivalry between the countries is alive and well, and I'll probably take a stab at the Aussies any chance I get. From diving on the Great Barrier Reef to having dinner under the stars at Ayers Rock, the country is diverse, topped with its relaxed lifestyle and teeming with colorful Aussie characters, you're guaranteed a good time, once you get there.
Being in the travel business, hundreds of people at this point have told me they've "always wanted to go," but the distance to the Land Down Under seems overwhelming to many Americans. I've found, however, that this tends to be more of a mindset, because when you think about how quickly people jump on flights to Singapore, London, Rome or Dubai, it makes me wonder if it's more about flying south than east or west.
To clear things up, here are some flight times.
- Los Angeles to Sydney: 14 hours
- Los Angeles to Rome: 13 hours
- New York to Hong Kong: 16 hours
- New York to Johannesburg: 16 hours
- Los Angeles to Dubai: 16½ hours
- Los Angeles to Bangkok: 17½ hours
- Los Angeles to Singapore: 18½ hours (also known as the longest flight in the world)
Since living in the U.S., I've probably taken about 50 flights to either New Zealand or Australia. The big differences you have with these flights are the aircraft and inflight service. The A380 used on many of Qantas's Los Angeles to Sydney services is known as the most advanced aircraft ever built (quieter cabin, double-decker configuration, higher pressurization, wide body, new wing designs). It is not like being crammed up on a U.S. domestic flight. No matter which airline you choose to fly Down Under, what you get inside the cabin (yes, I'm talking about coach) is a big step up from any airline you'll fly here in the States — ergonomic seats, personal on-demand entertainment sets, three meals, larger screens on seat backs ... and then there's the complimentary wine, so you can get a head start on great Aussie reds on the flight down. If you're a Business or First flier, then get ready for a top-class experience.
There are not that many times you'll get to fly on such a sophisticated aircraft, even to Europe. I'm excited about our trip to Sydney: Discover Australia: Sydney & The Hunter Valley. This is an independent itinerary (travel any day you want) that gives you a chance to lock in a great price now, as the travel dates for the land itinerary can be used up to March 2013. There are two things I can promise you, after you get over the "distance": You'll probably come back with a few more Aussie-isms, and you'll be telling your friends about your trip. So, throw another shrimp on the barbie, grab a cold one and get a gander at our trip Down Under.
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