Australia Invites You To Do The Outback Your Way

Vist Australia with the Outback Your Way promotionThe Northern Territory of Australia is inviting travelers to explore the Outback Your Way with limited-time promotions designed to make it easier and more affordable than ever to visit that famous part of the world. The promotions include a variety of great options such as free flights, discounted accommodations and other upgrades designed to enhance the experience.

The Outback Your Way program is designed to give travelers flexibility when exploring the Northern Territory without emptying their wallets in the process. For example, one of the most popular destinations in the Outback is Uluru, also known as Ayer’s Rock, the iconic sandstone formation that has been sacred to the Aboriginal tribes for thousands of years. As part of this new promotion, when visitors book a three-night stay at the Desert Gardens Hotel, they receive a free tour of Kata Tjuta National Park, the location of that landmark. Similarly, travelers who book three-night stays in the Crown Plaza, in either Alice Springs or Darwin, also receive free touring options as part of those packages as well.

Those looking to explore the Outback in a completely different way can travel from Darwin to Alice Springs aboard the legendary Ghan Railway. The package includes two nights stay in both cities, a wildlife tour and a visit to the West MacDonnell Ranges, as well as a number of other activities. Traveling by train across Australia’s countryside is an unbelievable way to experience the natural beauty of the place and when booked six months in advance, travelers receive a $500 discount.

Other special deals that fall under the Outback Your Way promotion include a free helicopter flight over Uluru, complimentary internal flights when booking a comprehensive Australian travel package, a free sunset dinner cruise and much more.

If you’ve been planning an Australian vacation for some time but have been waiting for just the right opportunity, then you’ll definitely want to check out the Outback Your Way website. This is the perfect time to head down under and experience everything Australia has to offer.

[Photo Credit: Huntster via WikiMedia]

5 Of The World’s Best Places For Viewing The Night Skies

milky wayIf you grow up in Southern California, school field trips to the Griffith Observatory are practically a requirement. For whatever reason, I always found the Planetarium more frightening than enlightening, especially in the sixth grade, when David Fink threw up on me on the bus ride home.

Despite many youthful camping trips with my family, I also can’t recall ever paying attention to the night skies (possibly because many of these trips were in the cloudy Pacific Northwest). Fast-forward 20-odd years, and to a solo camping trip on Kauai’s North Shore. It was my last night and the rainclouds had finally blown away. I stared up at the starry sky awestruck. It’s the first time l ever really noticed the stars, due to the lack of light and environmental pollution. I’ve been a stargazer ever since, and coincidentally, many of my travels have taken me to some of the world’s best locations for it.

Below, my picks for top-notch night skies, no student chaperone required:

Atacama Desert
, Chile

This stark, Altiplano region in Chile’s far north is the driest desert on earth, as well as home to the some of the clearest night skies on the planet. You don’t need anything (other than perhaps a great camera) to appreciate the stars, but a stargazing tour, offered by various hotels, hostels and outfitters throughout the town of San Pedro de Atacama, is well worth it.

I highly recommend the Astronomy Tour offered by the Alto Atacama Hotel & Spa, located just outside of San Pedro proper. For hotel guests only, this two-year-old program is led by one of the property’s guides, a naturalist and astronomer. The hotel has its own observation deck and a seriously badass telescope; you won’t be disappointed even if stargazing isn’t your thing. In addition to learning the constellations of ancient Quechua myth such as the Llama and Condor, you’ll have incredible views of the Milky Way, and be able to see telescopic images of Sirius and Alpha Centauri with a lens so powerful you can actually see a ring of flame flickering from their surface.

%Gallery-157717%alto atacama observatoryExmouth, Western Australia
Uluru (aka the former Ayers Rock, which now goes by its Aboriginal name) is considered Australia’s best stargazing, due to its location in exactly the middle of nowhere. In reality, the Outback in general has night skies completely untainted by pollution. But as I’ve discovered after many years of visiting Australia, the only bad places to stargaze are urban areas. The skies are also stellar above remote coastal regions, most notably in Western Australia (which is vast and sparsely populated).

The best skies I’ve seen are in Exmouth, located along the Ningaloo Reef. At Sal Salis, a coastal luxury safari camp, an observation platform and stargazing talk will help you make sense of the Southern sky. Be prepared for striking views of the Milky Way stretching across the horizon, seemingly close enough to touch.
mauna kea
Mauna Kea, Hawaii
In 1991, the year of the Total Solar Eclipse, hundreds of thousands of visitors flocked to the Big Island’s Mauna Kea Observatory – located at the top of the volcano – to watch the sky grow dark mid-morning. I was waiting tables on Maui, so all I noticed was a brief dimming, in conjunction with some of my tables pulling a dine-and-dash. A visit to the volcano, however, will assure you stunning views if you take a Sunset and Stargazing Tour offered by Mauna Kea Summit Adventures. Day visitors can hike, and even ski in winter.

Bryce Canyon, Utah
This national park, known for its bizarre rock spires (called “hoodoos”) and twisting red canyons, is spectacular regardless of time of day or season. On moonless nights, however, over 7,500 stars are visible, and park rangers and volunteer astronomers lead Night Sky programs that include multimedia presentations and high-power telescopes; schedules and topics change with the seasons.
aurora borealis
Churchill, Manitoba
Located on the southwestern shore of Hudson Bay on the fringe of the Arctic Circle, the village of Churchill is famous for three things: polar bears, beluga whales and the Northern Lights. Its location beneath the Auroral Oval means the “best and most Northern Lights displays on the planet,” according to Churchill’s website, and you don’t need to sign up for a tour to enjoy the show. Save that for the polar bear viewing.

[Photo credits: Atacama, Frank Budweg; Mauna Kea, Flickr user sambouchard418;Aurora Borealis, Flickr user Bruce Guenter]

Qantas & Tourism Northern Territory offer cheap flights to Australia’s Red Center

Gadling loves Australia. We’ve been proponents of Americans visiting Oz for a while and I was fortunate enough to check out Australia’s Red Center last year. The added flights – and the costs of those flights – have often kept Americans from delving deep into the heart of this fascinating country. Now, however, Qantas and Tourism Northern Territory are partnering to make travel from America’s West Coast to Central Australia cheaper than ever.

Packages to Alice Springs, Darwin or Uluru (Ayers Rock) are only $999 from Los Angeles and San Francisco. Travel must be booked by January 26, 2010 and your visit to Australia will have to be between May 1 and June 8, 2010. You’ll want to spend a few weeks Down Under, so this five week window is more than enough time to explore the heart of Australia.

Qantas and Tourism NT are also partnering with local tour operators and hotels to offer deals for visitors. You can learn more on the Qantas Vacations website.

For more information on Australia’s Northern Territory, check out the series from my trip there last year.

It may seem like 2010 just started, but there’s no better time to plan your travel for the year than now!

Gadling Take FIVE– Week of Oct. 10 to Oct. 16

During this week, the start of Gadling’s 5th birthday celebration, we’ve also highlighted aspects of eco-friendly travel and have continued to ferret out travel bargains. Brenda found a screaming deal on a trip to China. Heather’s weighed in on how to get free beer from a flight attendant and provides a reminder as to what NOT to do as well. I haven’t been given free beer on a flight, but I have been given free wine.

Here five other posts that cover subjects from sports to destinations to eats. This week was filled with such goodies, it was hard to pick.

  • Although it may not be the cheapest destination to reach, Alice Springs, Australia has much to offer. Mike was fortunate enough to see this Outback location from the vantage point of a hot air balloon. Lucky him!
  • In one of the most creative ways to fund travel that I’ve heard about in awhile–if ever, Daniel Seddiqui lined up 50 jobs in 50 states. Katie’s post highlights how Daniel did it and gives just enough of a taste to make us want more details about Seddiqui’s grand idea. We’ll have to wait for his book. Here’s hoping he’ll send it Gadling’s way when he’s done.
  • One of the great things about traveling is being exposed to the variety of ways in which people entertain themselves around the world. Grant found an amazing video of people playing Sepak Takraw in Thailand, something he relates to volleyball and hackey sack with an acrobatic twist.
  • Sepak Takraw isn’t the only unusual aspect of Asia we’ve highlighted this week. Catherine found out about a dwarf village in China. This village near Kunming is actually a theme park where 80 dwarf residents perform musical numbers. I have to say, this place sounds odd, but very intriguing. Catherine’s wondering if she should go there after she moves to Kunming in the next couple of weeks. I’m wondering how can she not?
  • In Chicago, Felony Franks is an intriguing restaurant that hires ex-convicts to serve up the dogs and french fries. Tom also points to similar establishments doing good work while serving the public in San Francisco and Trenton, New Jersey.

And one more. Here’s some music for your weekend. In the “Top 10 travel-themed 50’s songs,” a follow-up to Jeremy’s post on the “Top 10 travel-themed ’80’s songs,” there are some songs you probably know. One song I didn’t know before has become my new favorite. “Wayward Wind” captures so much about how hard it is to pin a world traveler down.

Outback Australia: Big Fun in Little Alice

It’s rare that a town with a population under 30,000 is known by everyone in a country as big as Australia. But Alice Springs is no ordinary town. It’s defined less by its size and more by its location and quirky nature. Known colloquially as just Alice, the town is considered the capital of Centralia (the efficient abbreviation for Central Australia). If you’re going to Uluru (Ayer’s Rock), or anywhere else in the Red Center, odds are you will be starting or ending your journey in Alice Springs. How does a tiny outpost in the middle of the desert become known the world over? By doing everything the hard way and with a big smile.

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Alice Springs is an Outback town, plain and simple. It’s 1,500km from Darwin and Adelaide and almost 2,500km from Perth, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. It is in the middle of one humongous country. It has survived and thrived for decades, however, thanks to ingenuity, creativity and, in recent years, a tourism industry that has capitalized on those traits.

So, you’ve found yourself in the middle of Australia with a few days to kill. Now what? Well, expect plenty of fun, for one thing, and some of the most breathtaking views you’ve ever seen.

  • Palm Valley ToursA bumpy 130km drive to the southwest of Alice is an amazing natural wonder that will make you believe that your eyes are deceiving you. In the middle of Finke Gorge National Park, in what appears to be a wide expanse the barren Outback, is a valley filled with lush, healthy palm trees. Relying on underground water supplies and only minimal amounts of rainfall, these palms have flourished for thousands of years. The tour bus takes you along unsealed, rugged roads and through some of the most striking landscapes in the entire Territory.
  • Alice Springs School of the AirSince when is a school a tourist destinations? Since this became the first school to communicate with students in remote areas via peddle-powered radios. The Northern Territory was, and still is, a region built around cattle stations and massive, remote plots of land occupied by very few people. As such, children are often hundreds of kilometers from the nearest school. The Alice Springs School of the Air was the first school to connect students and teachers utilizing the technology of the day. They have since upgraded to computers, webcams and chatrooms to allow students to attend classes with their peers who are scattered throughout the Territory. The visitors center shares the fantastic history of the school’s growth, development and the many innovations that have allowed it to educate the youth of rural Australia for decades.
  • Royal Flying Doctor ServiceThink setting up education in an area as remote as as the Northern Territory is difficult, try providing medical service to those sequestered locations. What do you do if you’re injured on a farm that’s 1,000km from the nearest town or hospital. You call the Royal Flying Doctor Service, which was founded in Alice in 1928. The visitor center in Alice is also the dispatch office, where people with medical situations can call for a doctor to be flown out to treat anything from traumatic injuries to flu outbreaks to childbirths. You can see the history of the RFDS, as well as how calls are processed and proceeds from sales in the gift shop help keep this essential service operating.
  • Outback BallooningI’d always been curious about flying in a hot air balloon but turned off by the high price of the experience. Also, while I’m not afraid of heights, I am a firm believer that only fruit should be collected in a basket. People deserve a metal casing. But after watching the sunrise over the Outback on the outskirts of Alice while floating several hundred feet above the ground, I realized that ballooning is the only way to travel. Or, the only way to see the majesty of an amazingly desolate yet beautiful landscape seemingly in the middle of nowhere. And the champagne breakfast afterward is sure to settle the nerves of anyone who was left jelly-legged from the ride.
  • Anzac Hill – Apparently, every single destination in the Northern Territory has a “perfect” spot to watch the sunset. In Alice, there is no better place than Anzac Hill (partially because there is no other place – Alice is flat other than this one bump). Atop the hill sits a war memorial (ANZAC stands for Australia-New Zealand Army Corps) and a remarkable 360° view of the little town that could. Wrap up your trip to the Red Center by watching the sun sink behind the MacDonnell Ranges that lurk in the distance.

Alice is home to countless indigenous art galleries and plenty of pubs and restaurants serving bush tucker ranging from yams to wallaby. It’s also the only city in Centralia with an airport that hosts flights from virtually any other city in Australia that you may be coming from or going to.

You may have noticed that Uluru is noticeably absent from this list. The rock is nearly 500km from Alice and is by no means a day trip. While Alice is the closest city to Uluru, they are neighbors in the sense that anything within 1,000km is your closest neighbor when you’re in the Outback. If you’re planning a trip to Alice and Uluru, expect one of your days to be spent in transit from one to the other.

In a quirky country like Australia, it takes a lot for a small town to stand out. Alice Springs has done more than that. It has prospered and evolved from a tiny outpost in the bush to a popular tourist destination for people the world over. And there’s one event that draws the biggest crowds to this little hamlet. A regatta in the town’s dry river bed. Confused? Well, check back tomorrow to learn more.

Mike Barish traversed the Outback on a trip sponsored by Tourism Northern Territory. He traveled alone and had no restrictions on what he could cover during his travels. That would explain how he ended up eating water buffalo. You can read the other entries in his Outback Australia series HERE.