Never before have our furry friends felt so much like a part of the family. Dogs that would normally wave us off to work in the morning are now curled up under the desk at our feet all day, while the cats look on with bemusement, demanding simultaneously to be patted and ignored.
Even people who have never previously owned a pet have found themselves adopting rescues or realising their dream of daily cuddles with a cavoodle, spoodle, groodle, or one of the other oodles of poodles I seem to see on the street these days.
But what does that mean when we start travelling freely around Australia again?
There’s going to be more of a desire than ever for travellers to bring their dog along on holiday, rather than deal with the separation anxiety – from the dog, probably, but the owner, definitely. (Let’s leave the issue of the cat alone for now, just as it would probably like.)
It’s one of the reasons why this month’s Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers has a whole program dedicated to dogs. The annual festival sees more than 170,000 flowers bloom in the parks of the Queensland city, as well as events like a food festival and parade.
Many of the displays are in reserves that allow dogs and some of them are even off-leash areas. Cafes, restaurants, and accommodation that welcome dogs have put together special itineraries so you can spend the day (and night) exploring with your pup by your side.
Luckily, for travellers who want their dogs to join them on their holidays in Australia, there are lots of options across the country – and it’s only getting better. Even before the pandemic, tourism operators were starting to be more accommodating of animals, but the focus on domestic travel has accelerated the trend.
The hotel chain Ovolo was one of the first to get on board, offering a ”VIPooch package” which doesn’t just allow you to bring your fur baby into your room – it celebrates it. The package includes a special doggy bed, eating mat, and food bowl, plus a welcome hamper with dog toys and treats. With hotels in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, and Canberra, it makes a city break more enjoyable if you don’t have to leave your pet at home.
At QT Hotels, they’ve taken things even further. The ”Pup Yeah! Fur-Friendly Stays” package comes with bedding and treats – and there’s even a room service menu for the dogs with a range of meals to choose from (and, in true eastern-Sydney style, QT Bondi even provides vegan options for the dogs!).
Some of the hotels also offer spa treatments for the animals (grooming, basically) and QT Sydney has a so-called Director of Chaos who can take the pups on walks.
For the more traditional dog-friendly holidays – throwing Rex in the back seat of the car and driving down the coast – there still needs to be a lot of consideration about where is going to be the most appropriate destination.
Taking them to the beach can sometimes be problematic but on the NSW South Coast, Shoalhaven Council is very accommodating with off-leash areas (sometimes not in the middle of the day, though) at some of the region’s best beaches like Culbarra and Callala. Further north, the Byron region is also pretty good, with all-day dog access at Belongil Beach and Brunswick Head Beach. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Sydney, where most of the coastal beaches prohibit animals (although harbour beaches can be a bit more lenient).
When it comes to hiking – an activity you might think is perfect for active dogs – the biggest obstacle is that animals aren’t allowed in most national parks in Australia. However, NSW state parks tend to permit dogs, which is why their trails, like the Terrace Falls Circuit or South Lawson Waterfall Circuit, are so popular in the Blue Mountains, which is otherwise covered by so much national park. Victoria is stricter with its state parks but does have some areas that welcome dogs, like the stunning Ironbark Gorge Walking Track in Great Otway National Park.
With a bit of planning, you can find all sorts of activities where four legs are not an impediment. Plenty of wineries allow you to bring your dogs along for tastings – especially when it’s outdoors – and if you don’t want to organise it yourself, Pooches & Pinot run private wine tours of the Yarra Valley.
If your furry friend likes making other friends, you could join a day tour from Melbourne with Gourmet Pawprints. The company has a 45-seat bus named Bella (and a Kelpie mascot called Diesel) to take travellers and dogs on various trips and has experiences including a guided walk of historic Williamstown, a picnic in the Dandenong Ranges, or a heritage train ride in Daylesford.
These are tours where dogs aren’t just tolerated, but celebrated!
And in Canberra, a cruise on Lake Burley Griffin doesn’t mean you need to leave pets on shore. Local company GoBoat rents small picnic boats that you’ll have all to yourself as you motor about the lake – and lets you bring your dogs along for the ride for free (they’ll even get their own special life jacket). Whether it’s a long holiday or just an escape from the everyday, the whole family should be welcome.