2024 February 24 to March 4
Prices listed are per person:
Shared Room: $8898
Private Room: $10,798
“The trip far exceeded my expectations.” – Steve A., Newark, OH
“Australia Dreamtime was exciting and colorful, everything I expected from a country with so much to offer the adventurous and interested traveler.” – Jim J., Watervliet, NY
“Australia is indeed a Continent – any visit will be too brief to see it all, but on this trip, we will see the diversity of this unique land, including mountains and oceans, deserts and rivers, cities and villages. We will also see how both European and Aboriginal people have interacted with the often-harsh landscape – and thrived!” – Phil Sheldon, President, HE Travel, Key West, Florida, USA
Savor the diverse cuisine of Australia’s second city, Melbourne
Tour the magnificent Yarra Valley wine region
Explore monolithic Uluru (Ayers Rock), rich in geologic and cultural significance
Glide above the Outback on a scenic flight and saddle up for a camel ride!
Sing a high note in the world-famous Sydney Opera House
Encounter Sydney’s darker side at the 19th-century convict facility on Cockatoo Island
Frolic with Kangaroos and dingoes at an animal sanctuary
Join big GAY fun at Sydney’s magical Mardi Gras parade
Beginning in Melbourne and ending in Sydney, on this Gay journey enjoy Australia’s two largest cities and experience the culture and wonder of the great Red Center! We will spend three glorious nights in luxurious accommodations in central Melbourne. From Melbourne, we drive into the hills to explore the Yarra wine region and taste the delights it has to offer.
Our next two nights are in the Outback, marveling at sunrise and sunset on iconic Ayers Rock while learning about local Aboriginal legends and their way of life.
We conclude our journey with four nights in Sydney. While there we will sip, stroll, prance, shop, savor, shine, and sail our way through seductive Sydney during the weekend of Gay Mardi Gras, immersed in one of the biggest GAY Parties in the world!
Day 1: Welcome to OZ!
When you arrive at Melbourne International Airport, one of our representatives will greet you and assist with your transfer to our luxurious hotel in central Melbourne.
Most flights from North America arrive by mid-morning, whether non-stop or via Sydney. So we will enjoy an afternoon Melbourne city tour of the quirky lanes and Victorian arcades, as well as other boroughs to help get a lay of the land. We will also hear a few stories and meet some interesting, creative locals.
Our welcome dinner this evening will introduce you to the flavor and taste of Australia. Then take time to rest and recover from the long journey and adjust to the time change. You’ve just jumped ahead an entire day.
Day 2: Phillip Island and Penguins
After a morning on your own in Melbourne, considered “one of the most liveable cities in the World,” you will be whisked off to Phillip Island to experience one of Australia’s most loved wildlife phenomena, adorable penguins returning to their beachside nests at dusk!. During this excursion, we will visit natural attractions, search for wallabies, and learn about the local Boonwurrng people who are native to the area. A farm-to-table dinner is included before the penguin parade.
Day 3: Wine and Dingoes
After a delightful breakfast, we will venture out to the world-famous Yarra Valley, a beautiful vineyard region especially renowned for its pinot and chardonnay wines. As we leave the city and enter the bush, our first stop will be at a wildlife sanctuary. Have you always wanted to feed a kangaroo or walk a dingo? We will have our chance!
Then, the vistas of vineyards blanketing peaceful hills and valleys awaken our thirst and build our hunger to see what’s on offer, We will tour a vineyard, chat with local winemakers, sample some of the region’s best local wines, and feast upon a vineyard lunch before returning to Melbourne later this afternoon.
Day 4: Outback here we come!
After breakfast, we say goodbye to Melbourne and head to the airport for our included flight to Uluru / Ayers Rock. Here we discover the rugged red desert in the center of Australia, indulge our Crocodile Dundee fantasies, and learn the mysteries of the inhabitants of this unique landscape, one of the oldest civilizations in the world.
We will visit Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, including Uluru, the Aboriginal name for what many people know as Ayers Rock. While its presence on the horizon is immense, only a third of it is exposed above ground. Learn about the local flora and fauna, what “bush tucker” is (it’s not what you think), and the Aboriginal Dreamtime stories of creation.
Surprisingly, Australia may have the world’s largest population of Arabian camels, first imported in the mid-19th century as ideal animals to help explore and build infrastructure in the Outback. Late this afternoon, we mount a few of these sturdy steeds for our own short journey across the rugged, red dunes with Uluru and Kata Tjuta in the distance.
Day 5: All about Uluru!
We will get up before dawn today for our guided walking tour to a special location from which to observe an amazing sunrise over Uluru. Early light often causes the huge monolith to seemingly begin to glow gold, then orange, and eventually red. After an Outback picnic breakfast, we will learn about the Mala people and hear their stories of world creation with “Liru” and “Kuniya,” two snakes often depicted in their petroglyphs. We will visit the Mutitjulu watering hole, an amazing natural phenomenon, before returning to our resort for relaxation and lunch.
Later this afternoon, we will be whisked into the air on a short scenic flight to gain a better overview of Uluru and the eroded mounds of nearby Kata Tjuta.
This evening, sparkling wine and canapes at hand, we relax on top of a remote sand dune with majestic views of Uluru in the setting sun. As darkness comes, above the skies fill with stars from the southern hemisphere. And below, a soft glow sparkles as tens of thousands of colorful lights come into view across the landscape, glowing wildflowers under this huge, starry sky. Feel free to wander around this large light installation before returning to the hotel.
Day 6: Mardi Gras in Sydney
After breakfast, we fly out to Sydney, a sunny, seductive, and friendly city famous for its large harbor and wide beaches, where we start to get ready for the celebratory weekend! Enjoy our luxurious, 5-star hotel, centrally located between the main gay area of Oxford Street and the harbor area. Later, meet the group for a casual Sydney dinner and to see what is happening around town.
There is so much to see and do in Sydney that you will have a hard time deciding! We have allowed open afternoons for you to explore on your own, pursue Pride events, or rest up for the big events in the evenings. Here are a few ideas!
- Tan, bodysurf, and swim. Head to Tamarama Beach, a particularly gay spot during this pre-Mardi Gras week, then enjoy the seaside walk to its more famous neighbor, Bondi Beach. These are perfect spots for the great Australian sport of lifeguard-watching.
- Ride the “Manly Ferry” or one of several other ferries to points all over Sydney’s extensive harbor, departing from Circular Quay
- Check out Sydney’s many museums
- Shop at the grand Queen Victoria Building, once claimed by Pierre Cardin as “the most beautiful shopping center in the world.”
- Rent a bike and ride along the network of bike paths in the active-lifestyle-oriented city, or even all the way around the bay to the secret Gay beach, ask your tour host for details
In the evenings, the gay Oxford Street district will be particularly active during Mardi Gras weekend, with lots of fun to be had!
Day 7: Sydney Opera House Tour
After breakfast, we are off to one of the most iconic buildings on the planet. The Sydney Opera House. Our tour brings to life the long saga behind the making of this modern masterpiece. We will go inside one of the working venues to experience the magic behind one of these extraordinary artistic spaces. Lunch follows at or near the Opera House. Then feel free to wander through the Botanical Gardens, see the dramatic view from Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair, and then stop by the Art Gallery of New South Wales as you return to the hotel. Alternatively, after lunch enjoy the historic district under Sydney Harbor Bridge, known as The Rocks, perhaps stopping by the Museum of Contemporary Art on your return to the hotel.
Day 8: Ferry to Cockatoo Island and Gay Australia Mardi Gras
We start our day with a short ferry ride across the harbor to Cockatoo Island for a guided tour of the penal establishment from the 1850s. Convicts created the entire facility themselves, much of which is made from rock quarried on-site and includes large silos carved into the limestone. Enjoy the views across the harbor and back toward the central business core as the ferry brings us back to the city.
The rest of the day will be soaking up the festival atmosphere. There’s no way to describe the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras except with superlatives. It’s one of Australia’s biggest attractions for overseas visitors (and for locals, both gay and straight), and one of the world’s grandest gay parties. In fact, Sydney Mardi Gras is a month-long event, with gay and lesbian cultural, social, and sporting events, culminating in the festive parade and countless parties.
This evening, our group will enjoy access to a premium viewing area of the Mardi Gras parade, an event so extravagant it draws a crowd of some 500,000 people and is televised on Australian TV.
The parade is followed by an official all-night Mardi Gras party and dozens of unofficial parties around the city. Party tickets are not included with our package, but we’ll advise on how to get them if we don’t handle them on your behalf. It’s not difficult, but you do need to order well in advance most years.
Day 9: Do what you will……
Until this evening, today is for recovering from the party! Rest, relax, lounge, or hit the beach—it’s up to you.
Optional excursion: Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb:
For those who have recovered from last night’s party, we offer the amazing Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb as an optional tour this afternoon. It is a 3.5-hour experience, with views down onto the Opera House and across its magnificent harbor. (Be warned, you have to pass a breathalyzer scan to be allowed up!)
Harnesses, helmets, and gloves are provided. The Climb starts when you attach a strong carabiner (hook) onto a continuous metal rod that goes all the way up to the top of the bridge, and all the way down the opposite side. You walk partway onto the bridge, climb up a ladder, then start the gradual ascent to the top. The footpath is wide enough that most people don’t get too scared – but it’s not recommended to spend much time looking down at the speeding cars and subway trains a few stories below!
At the top, you walk from one side of this great icon to the other, and Climb Leaders will point out key landmarks. A clear day will afford you views that stretch from the Pacific Ocean to the Blue Mountains. You then return to the starting point on the opposite side of the bridge.
Tonight, we will sail on our private yacht across Sydney Harbour for our Farewell Dinner! We relax and enjoy the views. As the sun slowly sets, we enjoy a shipboard gourmet barbeque dinner with 5-star service. Toasting each other, we celebrate with friends and begin to say farewell to this land down under.
Day 10: Goodbye Mates!
After breakfast, transfers will be provided to the airport, then it’s off to your home. Or for a completely different take on the lands down under join our Vineyards & Vistas Tour of New Zealand! (see Extension for details!)
Price includes: Arrival and departure airport transfers, transfers for group flights; group ground transportation, starting in Melbourne and finishing in Sydney; flights from Melbourne to Ayers Rock to Sydney; hotels for 3 nights in Melbourne, 2 nights at Ayers Rock, 4 nights in Sydney; all breakfasts, 4 lunches, and 6 dinners; entrance for activities shown on the itinerary; entry to a premium viewing area for the Mardi Gras parade; and services of an HE Travel tour director accompanying the group within Australia (subject to minimum participation). HE Travel provides complimentary Medical & Evacuation Insurance for every US Resident on our group tours who does not have other coverage. The base price shown is per person in a shared room.
Not included: ETA (Electronic Travel Authority) for admission to Australia (we will provide instructions shortly before the tour); International airfare to and from Australia; activities listed as Optional Tour Choices; Mardi Gras party admissions/ special events tickets; Souvenirs, snacks, admissions, alcohol; 6 lunches and 4 dinners; Gratuities for tour director and local guides; Any Covid testing or isolation costs, if necessary.
Optional Tour Choices:
$290 Sydney Bridge Climb
If interested, Mardi Gras all-night party tickets can be purchased by each individual wishing to attend. More information will be in the newsletter when you sign up.
We strongly recommend the purchase of Trip Cancellation and Interruption insurance to protect your vacation investment in case of unforeseen circumstances such as flight delay, illness, or injury. Click Here to learn more about our Insurance partner.
When you travel “Back-to-Back” on two or more of our tours, you are eligible for a discount! Contact Us for pricing if you are interested in reserving Australia Mardi Gras plus New Zealand Cultural Tour.
Stay longer and join the New Zealand Cultural Tour!
Take a journey through New Zealand, located only three to four hours away, but a much different country and experience. The natural beauty and rich cultural heritage abound. In this beautiful cultural tour of New Zealand, you’ll enjoy all three of its main cities, visit multiple vineyards, enjoy tasting tours, sail in Auckland harbor, travel along scenic coastlines, between towering mountains, and across grand glacial lakes, not to mention enjoying a backstage tour of the finest museum of the region.
- What if I am traveling alone?
- Most of our trips draw more single travelers than couples. When couples do join us, it’s usually because they’re looking forward to interacting with a gay group; if they wanted a holiday by themselves, they wouldn’t have signed up to travel with us. Furthermore, the activities included with our trips serve as natural ice-breakers. Within a day, you’ll be traveling with friends. You don’t need to pay the single supplement if you’re traveling alone. We’ll be happy to match you with a roommate. Pay the single supplement only if you want a bedroom to yourself. For selected trips, including cruises, we will charge half the single supplement if you request a roommate but we can’t match you with someone.
- What is the physical activity level of this tour?
Physical Activity Level
This Cultural Tour of Australia requires some walking on each day, at a modest pace, often on uneven surfaces. A few boat and ferry rides are included, so you will need to be able to climb on board and feel steady on boats that may move with the swells. Someone with less mobility could still enjoy the tour but may need to sit out some of the more strenuous activities. In lieu of the cruise in Freycinet National Park on Day 6 of the tour, there is an option to hike instead. And for this adventure, you should be reasonably fit, able to hike for 5-6 hours (with stops), on a dirt/rock/sand trail, and across beaches. The hike passes up and over the ridgeline of the peninsula, so you will have some ascent and descent on the trail. Most guests will likely choose the cruise today instead of this more challenging hike, but we invite you to consider it if you it is within your usually fitness routine.
- Where does the tour start and end?
- This tour starts Melbourne, Australia (arrive by 1:30pm to join the city tour) and ends in Sydney, Australia anytime on the last day. While we will let the hotel know of early arrivals, the hotel may not be able to get you into your room until mid-afternoon. If you arrive early in the day, which is likely for those traveling overnight from the US, and would like to be sure of your room availability on arrival, please consider asking us to reserve your room for an additional night, guaranteeing early arrival availability. Likewise, we are happy to extend your stay for extra nights in Sydney if you so desire. You can book these additional nights when you register for your tour. We may be able to obtain them for you closer to departure if there is still room availability.
- What will the hotels be like?
- Each of the hotels used for our tour is one of the highest rated hotels in its area. We have chosen our deluxe hotels due to their history, convenience, and comfort – and uniqueness! Our city hotels are in excellent locations allowing easy access to charming restaurants, cityscapes, and nightlife.
- Can I go to the Great Barrier Reef?
- For 2024, we may be offering a post-tour excursion this year to the reef, details to come. We don’t include a visit to the Great Barrier Reef with this tour due to a few challenges. First, it’s cyclone season in the tropical regions when we schedule this tour for Sydney Mardi Gras, so rain and weather are a common threat, if not outright evacuation concerns due to an approaching storm. Plus, jellyfish are present in the waters around Cairns and Port Douglass at this time of year. But if the weather concerns don’t dissuade you. And if you don’t mind wearing protection or watching for jellyfish while snorkeling, then we are happy to arrange a private trip to the area and perhaps the Daintree Rainforest before or after our main tour. Or other times of the year when you may visit.
- Can you help me plan a custom trip to Australia?"
- ...of course, we're happy to use our resources around the world and travel experience to help you create a special journey just for you and your friends....
- Additional Questions
- For answers to your additional questions, please email email@example.com or call 305-294-8174