The Wonders of Oz

The Attainable Australia
The wonderfully surreal world of Oz: Kangaroo Island's Flinders Chase National Park (PhotoDisc)
Where Do You Want to Go?
Weather will largely dictate where and when you go where you go, but if you want us to profile the shoulder season of a particular part of the world, let us know! Send us an email at:

For a country as diverse and varied as Australia—with environs that range from the world’s largest barrier reef to a swath of rainforest 16 times older than the Amazon, from the tropical Top End to the semi-arid, red-sand-stained Outback—the concept of a country-wide shoulder season is largely illusory. Winter in Sydney means it’s prime time to hit the Red Center and circumnavigate that gorgeous, massive big rock otherwise known as Uluru. Peak season in the Red Center also means Darwin and nearby Kakadu—the country’s largest national park—are in the middle of the dry season, ideal for bushwalking but the wrong time to visit if you’ve been dreaming of a helicopter tour of the park’s signature waterfalls. What’s the shoulder-season-obsessed traveler to do? Simple: heed the fluctuating cost of airfare.

For those heading from Europe and North America, getting to Australia is the highest expenditure, and the best barometer in deciding when to go. Round-trip prices from L.A. to Sydney average around US$1,500 during the peak season (October to February, summer in the southern hemisphere). But if you travel during Australia’s winter and early spring (June through September), you can save as much as US$800. Want proof? Right now Qantas, Australia’s national airline, has web-only round-trip flights from L.A. to Sydney for about US$750 (available to U.S. citizens only; provided you travel before the end of September. A word of advice, however: When you find a fare you’re pleased with, book it. Only three carriers cover the U.S./Australia route (Qantas, United, and Air New Zealand), so the pickings can get slim. If you have a choice, go for Qantas—the service is commendable and food is surprisingly good; they’re partnered with American Airlines, which has loads of inexpensive routes throughout the States; and they carry the enviable reputation of having never lost a plane.

Package deals, normally taboo to most indie travelers, actually make for a very cost-effective alternative should you be willing to sacrifice independence to save some money. Tourism Australia ( offers a wide variety of package trips starting at $1,300—international airfare, lodging, and all domestic flights are included, and there are trips tailored to every interest, from the adventure set to the over-50 crowd, from touring the Red Center to scuba diving off Cairns.

Should you instinctively lean toward the DIY mode, however, Qantas does offer an attractive, reasonably priced solution for domestic travel: the Boomerang Pass. Used in conjunction with an international ticket, you can purchase domestic flights at a reduced price (cost is divided into one of three zones, each zone dictated by the mileage flown—zone one extends to 750 miles for AUS$160; zone three goes for 1,151 miles or more for AUS$360). A host of major Aussie cities are included, along with five gateway cities in New Zealand and a number of South Pacific islands. You must purchase the pass from the States, but you can buy more tickets for the same rate once in country.

Conversely, the domestic-flight market offers two competitive low-fare airlines: Virgin Blue and JetStar. Of the two, Virgin Blue ( definitely offers more options, including one-way flights from Sydney to Alice Springs for AUS$129 and to Cairns and Darwin for AUS$149. Virgin Blue’s flights cast a wide net across the vast expanse of Australia, and also offer inexpensive, no-frills flights to Tasmania and New Zealand. JetStar (, the low-cost off-shoot of Qantas that launched in June of 2004 is still going through a few growing pains—its routes concentrate mostly on the cities dotting the eastern and southern coasts, along with two flights to Tasmania. Sample fares include one-way flights from Sydney to the Sunshine Coast just north of Brisbane for AUS$79, Sydney to Melbourne for AUS$65, and AUS$95 from Sydney to the southern Tasmanian town of Hobart. As JetStar works out the kinks and hits its stride, a price war with Virgin Blue may start up, bringing some much-needed cost reduction in domestic travel across the continent.


Nathan Borchelt is the lead editor for

Published: 10 Aug 2004 | Last Updated: 3 Apr 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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