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]

Top ten hotel rooms with a view

Hotels aren’t the sum of travel, but the right hotel can bring magic to a journey. Friendly employees, amazing furnishings, and great locations can all make a good holiday great. And an exceptional view, above and beyond the rest, can stick in one’s memory forever. Here are ten hotels strewn around the world, each with ridiculously stunning views.

1. Shearwater Resort, Saba. Shearwater’s Cottage Rooms, which overlook the resort’s cliffside pool from an altitude of 2000 feet and sport views of the ocean and several neighboring islands (St. Eustatius, St. Kitts, and Nevis) are in a league of their own. See above for evidence. Shearwater’s owners also recommend the views from their Ocean View Suite. Cottage Rooms from $175; Ocean View Suite from $250.

2. Longitude 131, Ayers Rock Resort, Australia. The tents at Longitude 131 at Ayers Rock feature heart-stopping panoramic views of this most iconic of Australian sights. This is real fantasy territory, with rates well beyond feasibility for most. From A$4080 for two for two nights ($4095).

3. Hotel on Rivington, New York, New York. The corner king rooms at this Lower East Side outpost of extravagance have floor-to-ceiling glass walls affording astounding views of the city. Aim for a room on a higher floor. From $379.

4. Hotel de Crillon, Paris, France. Terribly exorbitant, yes–not sure that a room at this price point should ever be recommended–but the views are exquisite here. Do you best to nab a room with a view over the Place de la Concorde to the Eiffel Tower. From €630 ($875).

5. Sheraton Iguazú Resort and Spa, Iguazú Falls, Argentina. The only hotel inside the Iguazú National Park offers awe-inspiring views of the falls themselves. The Falls View rooms, all with balconies, are perfect for the view-minded. From $255.

6. Campi ya Kanzi, Mtito Andei, Kenya. Campi ya Kanzi lies in a 400 square-mile are of Maasai-run land in southern Kenya. Mount Kilimanjaro is 35 miles away from the camp site, which consists of six tented cottages and two suites. Suites run $1600 for two; single occupancy $900.

7. The Intercontinental, Kowloon, Hong Kong. Stunning Hong Kong Harbor provides the world one of its most exciting skylines, and a harbourview room at the Intercontinental is one of the best places to glimpse it. From around HK$2600 ($335).

8. The Fairmont Banff Springs, Banff, Alberta, Canada. The most iconic of Canada’s mountain lodges, the Fairmont Banff Springs is in a league of its own as far as picturesque placement is concerned. Many rooms offer extraordinary views as well. Book a valley view room (not a mountain view room) to take full advantage of the Rockies’ scenic majesty. From around C$439 ($437).

9. Explora, Torres del Paine, Chile. Gorgeous if minimalist modernism features here in the wilds of Chilean Patagonia, courtesy of famed Chilean architect Germán del Sol. Views of Macizo del Paine are drop-dead extraordinary. They’re also most definitely not cheap. Four nights will run $5840 for two.

10. La Haut Plantation, St. Lucia. The least expensive of the options here is this reasonable stunner, which has great views of St. Lucia’s famous Pitons. Even the least expensive Standard Garden rooms here boast incredible views of the Pitons. From $120 in low season.

A list like this one is of course necessarily quite subjective, and my evaluation here is designed to suggest and expose more than it is intended to lay down the law. Have a hotel view in mind that you think belongs on this list? Add it in the comments below!

(Images provided by hotels, except for the view from the Sheraton Iguazú Resort and Spa [Flickr / Tran’s World Productions] and view from the Fairmont Banff Springs [Flickr / dbaron]

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Uluru remains open for climbers

Last summer we reported that the Australian national parks service had recommended to the government that Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, be closed to climbers. Officials reasoned that climbing on the giant monolith was a safety risk and increased traffic there was causing accelerated erosion. Even more importantly, Uluru is held as a sacred site to the Aboriginal tribes in the region, and they have been very outspoken against allowing climbing there.

At the time of our original story, the proposal was going to be open for public discussion for two months before getting passed on to the Australian Parliament, who would make the final decision on the future of the Rock. Last week, the government handed down their decision, allowing climbing to continue on Uluru for now, but saying that it could yet be closed off in the future.

Uluru is a World Heritage Site and one of Australia’s most recognizable natural resources, rising 1,142 feet above the desert that surrounds it. Every year, more than 350,000 visitors flock to the monolith, with 100,000 of those electing to scale its sandstone walls. All of those visitors has caused environmental issues however, with trash and human waste littering the area.

The Australian government set down three very specific criteria that need to be met in order to ensure that Uluru remains open for climbing. First, they want to see the number of visitors who climb the rock drop from its current 38% down to just 20%. They also want to discourage climbers from coming to the place for the sole purpose of making a climb, and finally, they want to develop new experiences for visitors to experience, including ones that highlight the Aboriginal culture.

So, for now, climbing on Uluru is safe, and Parliament has promised that they will give at least an 18-month notice before they decide to close it in the future. Adventure travelers who still want to go to the top of the monolith are allowed to do so, but they should be prepared to tread lightly and expect to see fewer people on the routes to the summit.

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!