Normally the slogan for a huge sale might be: ‘Everything must go!’. This time, ‘Everyone must go!’ would be more apt. With the Federal Government announcing on Thursday that up to 800,000 domestic airfares will be available at half price, it’s a great time to be planning a trip in Australia.
In the initial program, there were 13 destination airports in every state and territory except the ACT, and there was at least one route from each capital city, except Hobart. On Thursday night the government added Darwin and flights from Kangaroo Island to Adelaide, and over the weekend announced that Hobart would now be included as one of the destinations, taking the total to 16 destinations.
It’s expected the exact routes will change a bit over time, depending on demand, but the first tickets will be on sale from April 1.
Let’s put aside the questions of why the package is aimed at the regions when the government’s own tourism agency is currently focused on the capital cities, whether there should also have been support for operators on the ground, and if border closures could ruin the whole thing. Today I just want to have a look at where you could holiday with some of these cheap flights.
Cairns has been one of the regions hit hardest by the pandemic and there’s lots of availability for domestic tourists. You can use a city hotel as a base to explore the Great Barrier Reef and the surrounding rainforest, or head north to Port Douglas or south to Mission Beach.
In the Whitsundays, you’ll feel a bit like a celebrity flying directly onto Hamilton Island. For more affordable options, you can fly to Proserpine and stay in Airlie Beach with day trips to the islands, or catch the boat to a resort somewhere like Long Island.
The Sunshine Coast has an incredible variety from trendy Noosa, to quieter Coolum, or bustling (relatively) Maroochydore. There are lots of activities for the kids along the coast, while the hinterland’s craft breweries and distilleries might interest mum and dad.
And, of course, there’s the Gold Coast where there are some amazing accommodation deals at the moment and you can combine surf and nightlife with wellness and fine dining.
The three initial Tasmanian destinations – Launceston, Devonport, and Burnie – are all at the northern end of the state, where you’ll find colonial heritage and the food and wine that’s so often the focus for visitors. Spend time exploring the Tamar Valley and tasting some of Australia’s best sparkling wines or take a road trip along the coast and then inland towards Cradle Mountain and other stunning parts of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. Hobart has been added as a fourth Tasmanian destination eligible for half-price air fairs.
The focus for the Northern Territory flights is the region called Lasseter, where Uluru is the highlight. Visiting Uluru, you can feel the spiritual energy in a way you’ll never appreciate just from photos. Spending a few days here is something I would recommend every Australian do at least once in their life.
You can fly directly to Uluru but consider flying to Alice Springs instead to see a bit of the town and do a road trip that also takes in Kings Canyon and other national parks to see the dramatic ochre landscapes of Central Australia.
Travellers will also be able to get half-price flights to Darwin under the $1.2 billion tourism package. The late announcement came on Thursday night after Darwin was not included in the initial release. Top End tourism operators expressed disappointment when the initial program list included only two outbound flights from Darwin, to Broome and Cairns.
The only destination with cheap fares in Western Australia is Broome, but it’s one of the state’s best. It’s worth spending a few days around town, with the beautiful sunsets over Cable Beach, a vibrant multicultural community, and insights into the pearling industry. But Broome is also the western gateway to the Kimberley, so I would suggest hiring a car and discovering the red-rock cliffs of the Dampier Peninsula or the striking national parks with gorges and rivers around Fitzroy Crossing.
A return flight between Sydney and Broome would normally cost over $1000, which might discourage many travellers, so a half-price ticket is a huge saving for this route.
South Australia is the only place offering a cheap intrastate fare. The half-price route here is between Adelaide and Kangaroo Island (Kingscote), offering quick and easy access to this natural wonderland. We know that Kangaroo Island was badly damaged by bushfires more than a year ago and there are tours that will show you how it’s recovering. But many parts of the island are as scenic as ever (one of my favourite spots is Remarkable Rocks), plus you can visit local producers offering wares like gin and honey.
The Great Ocean Road usually has a reputation of being full of buses with international tourists confused by why they can’t see all 12 of the Apostles, so it’s lovely to have this gorgeous stretch of coastline to ourselves. The only airport in Victoria with cheap fares is Avalon, the gateway to the drive from Torquay, past Lorne, through the Otways (where you could stop for some hiking), and then as far on as you like. Rent a car for a weekend or a week and see what all the fuss is about.
New South Wales
And then there’s New South Wales that has actually seen a boom in local travel over the past year with so many people unable to leave the state because of border closures. Tourism operators in Sydney have suffered but the only half-price fare on offer at the moment is from Melbourne to Merimbula on the South Coast. With beaches, oyster farms, whale watching (in season), and epic national parks, there’s plenty to do here for travellers who take up the offer.