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What recession? See Australia on the cheap
Soaring costs and the strong dollar are hurting tourism, but there's no need to miss out on Oz
With the seemingly never-ending global recession, the strong Aussie dollar and the increasing cost of living in Australia, some might say -- beyond the obvious broader economic hurt -- that there’s trouble in store for anyone in the business of tourism.
In fact, the latest statistics show the number of Aussies choosing to vacation overseas in 2011 was a record 7.8 million -- that’s a full two million more than the total of incoming tourists, causing something of a problem for a country that relies so much on being an attractive destination for vacationers of all stripes.
While it’s true that flights from abroad can be expensive and the cost of staying and playing in cities like Sydney exorbitant, it is possible to see Australia on a budget.
The tricks, as we’ll show you, include being smart about how you get around and discovering the alternatives to the pricey tours.
Read on and save enough for more than a few extra shrimps on the barbie.
1. Stick with public transport in NSW
It’s an expensive city, but many of Sydney’s main attractions are free.
You can see major landmarks like the Harbour Bridge, the Opera House, Darling Harbour and the Art Gallery of New South Wales for nothing.
Don’t be lured by the tourist cruises -- you can see the same sights for pennies on a ferry ride, recommends Matthew Long of travel site LandLopers.
When you’re ready to escape the urban sprawl, swap a costly coach tour for a train ride to the Blue Mountains.
For $45, you can get an ExplorerLink ticket that combines a return train pass with the Explorer Bus, which heads to 30 attractions in the greater Blue Mountains area.
2. Pay less in Victoria
Grab a map from the visitor center and stroll Melbourne’s laneways at your own pace. Head for Federation Square to people-watch, then immerse yourself in movies at the Australian Center for the Moving Image.
Don’t forget to stop by the Town Hall (90/120 Swanston St., +61 (0) 3 9658 9658), which houses the largest grand organ (more than 10,000 pipes) in the southern hemisphere.
Or take a day trip with Mornington Peninsula's Attractions Pass for $55. You get up to 40 percent off admission at four attractions, including the koala-filled Moonlit Sanctuary, and discounts at three more.
3. Camp out in Tasmania
If you cross the water to Tassie, driving yourself can save money and grant easier access to national parks like Mount Field or Cradle Mountain, says Rachel Power, who runs the travel site Great Aussie Road Trip.
Skip the rental car and instead hire a one-way camper van for as little as $1 a day (really). Even with park entry and camping fees, you can spend under $50 a day for a powered site, less than half the average nightly cost of a hotel stay, and tour the area yourself.
When exploring, there's also a good source of insider information without paying for a costly package tour, according to Power.
“We tend to talk to the visitor information centers,” she says. “They’re always the best point of call because they’re manned by people from the area.”
4. Scrimp in Queensland
Free attractions are easy to come by in Brissie: there’s the South Bank riverfront area with its man-made beach, public tours of the Mount Coot-tha Botanic Gardens and free photography, art and live music at Brisbane Powerhouse.
Craving a day trip? A one-way train ride to the Gold Coast is only $15. Or, take a $45-return ferry cruise to the beautiful Moreton Island to see unique plant life, soaring sand dunes and the rusty shipwrecks.
If you want to see tropical north Queensland, you can hit Port Douglas, Cape Tribulation and the Daintree Rainforest on one of the Cairns city shuttle buses for between $35 and $78 -- a cheap substitute for the full-day tours, which range from $100 to $200.
5. Be one with nature in Western Australia
A daytrip to Rottnest Island is cheap if you time it right. Book a same-day return in advance and get a fare as low as $69, about $30 less than regular price.
Or head further north to the Coral Bay reefs, where the glass-bottom boat tour -- a much cheaper alternative for those who can’t afford the over-touristed Great Barrier Reef -- provides a memorable afternoon on the ocean. Prices start at $39.
6. Save in South Australia and Northern Territory
You can also get a taste of the outback with free entry to the mines and underground churches in Coober Pedy, a historic area known as the “opal capital of the world.”
Amanda Markham, director of research at the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority and owner of the site Travel Outback Australia, dispels the myth you need a tour guide and a lot of cash to see the outback.
While it costs to get into the areas surrounding Uluru and Kakadu, the remaining Northern Territory national parks allow free entry and camping if you opt to rent a camper van.
One paid tour Markham recommends is through the Alice Springs Desert Park -- it costs a scarcely believable $20.
“This place takes you on a complete tour through every outback environment and habitat,” she says.
“You'll see emus, kangaroos, fabulous displays of eagles and falcons coming to feed and the nocturnal house, where there are lots of cute little outback marsupials that you'll never see otherwise.”
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