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Youth Beat

Under Budget Down Under

October 18, 1998|LUCY IZON | Izon is a Toronto-based freelance writer. She can be reached at http://www.izon.com

Australia is huge, and getting around it economically can be a major concern for budget travelers. Fortunately, a variety of companies offer special services or discounted rates.

In Sydney some of the possibilities include:

The WonderBus, which offers minibus day tours to the Blue Mountains or the Hunter Valley and Port Stephens regions. It has discounted rates for travelers with Hostelling International YHA and Nomads hostel cards.

The discounted Blue Mountains full-day trip is $28. In addition to more upscale lodgings, you can arrange for twin accommodations at the Blue Mountain YHA for $9 per person, per night.

The WonderBus Hunter Valley and Port Stephens day tour takes travelers to three wineries, a cheese factory, on a two-hour dolphin cruise and to a nature farm where you can cuddle a koala and feed kangaroos. A picnic lunch is included. Twin accommodations can be arranged at the Shoal Bay YHA for $12 per person, per night. Hostelers' reduced rate for the tour is $55.50.

You can contact WonderBus at telephone 011-61-2-9555-9800, fax 011-61-2-9555-1345, or get more information on the Internet at http://www.wonderbus.com.au.

Wayward is an independent tour company that operates small-scale three- to eight-day tours linking major points in Southeast Australia to the middle of the continent. "Our shorter tours are quite flexible . . . in concept, while our Outback tours are all-inclusive because we must look after you in the desert!" They warn: "We're not a party bus for first-time-away-from-homers."

New this year is the "Fruit Bowl" tour ($112) between Sydney and Adelaide, which takes a minimum of 4 1/2 days. It traverses fruit- and wine-growing regions popular with sightseers and travelers with work permits who are seeking seasonal employment.

For more information, contact Wayward at tel. 011-61-8-8232- 6646, fax 011-61-8-8232-1455, or visit its Internet site at http://www.waywardbus.com.au.

The largest, best-known backpacker bus service in Australia is the 4-year-old Oz Experience, which combines transportation and touring with the opportunity to move at your own pace.

Covering a wide variety of routes, the service includes sightseeing and a commentary from the driver-guide for key cities and many sights. Travelers can hop off for a few days where they choose, taking months to complete their journeys.

The nice thing about Oz is that you won't have to shell out money for local sightseeing tours, and the buses are known to take side trips into interesting areas that you'd never happen across otherwise.

Stops also are made for such optional activities as mountain biking, sailing, horse trekking, hiking, bungee jumping, whale watching, rock climbing, white-water rafting and ballooning. Passengers usually are eligible for a sizable discount.

Oz Experience guarantees at least three departures per week year-round, and daily departures over most routes during summer.

Drivers can book beds for passengers at hostels along the route ($6-$10.50 a night) and will drop them off and pick them up at the door. Stops also are made at supermarkets so that passengers can pick up supplies for use at hostel cooking facilities.

You can purchase the Oz Experience before you leave or after you arrive. One Oz route, called the Bruce Route, goes from Sydney to Cairns via Nundle, Bingara, Noosa, Dingo and Arilie Beach. It's sold in Australia for about $175. Oz Experience also offers packages that combine a flight and bus pass; the Gloria package includes a flight between Cairns and Darwin, bus travel from Darwin to Alice Springs, a flight from Alice Springs to Cairns and bus travel from Cairns to Sydney for $587.

Details on the many routes (and lots of good travel suggestions) are available on the Oz Experience Internet site at http://www.ozex.com.au/. To contact Oz Experience in Sydney, call 011-61-2- 9368-1766. Oz Experience is sold in North America by STA Travel; tel. (800) 781-4040, Internet http:// www.sta-travel.com. STA offers a 5% discount for travelers with international student identity (ISIC) cards and Hostelling International YHA cards.

Take 10% off on Greyhound Pioneer, McCaffertys and Rail Australia tickets, which are available to Hostelling International members who purchase their tickets through Australian Youth Hostel Assn. (YHA) Travel Centres. You can find one at the Sydney Central YHA, Pitt Street and Rawson Place; tel. 011-61-2-9281-9111.

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