Pandemic-struck domestic travel this year has become an open-and-shut and then maybe open but perhaps shut again proposition as circumspect politicians prevaricate over reopening the nation to tourism.
It's left some of Australia's leading operators marooned in a sea (and in some cases desert) of uncertainty with travellers, denied options overseas, eager to embrace domestic holidays.
Believe or not, that time, when borders are finally open for all Australians will eventually dawn. For the sake of the battered national economy, we all need to be ready for it.
In the meantime, unable to physically check-in for some of Australia's best travel destinations and experiences, we've checked in with their operators to see, in their own words, how they're faring and what they're planning for us when we can finally meet again.
CABLE BEACH CLUB RESORT & SPA, BROOME, WESTERN AUSTRALIA
STUART KENTISH, GENERAL MANAGER
MISSING US? Our biggest challenge, and sadness, was having to tell our loyal guests that we could not welcome them to the resort, and to Broome, at their favourite time of the year. Guests to Cable Beach Club Resort & Spa know what unique holidays we offer and we were deeply upset we could not offer these magical memories.
WHAT ARE WE MISSING? As the only resort on Cable Beach, our guests have access to 22 kilometres of white sand and the best vantage point to take in an unforgettable sunset over the Indian Ocean. The Cable Beach Club experience is all about entering "Broome Time". As soon as you arrive at the resort, time almost stands still and everything you need for the perfect holiday is here - beautiful dining, two swimming pools, world-class spa and complimentary beach packs for the kids. Our adult guests particularly love it when we roll out the custom Apelino bar serving complimentary drinks in the afternoon…
SO WHEN CAN WE VISIT AGAIN? The Resort re-opens on July 1, as we welcome West Australian guests back. We expect that later in the year our Western Australian borders will be open and when that happens, we will be delighted to welcome our eastern states guests back for an iconic Kimberley holiday. Every season is unique in the Kimberley and at the resort we strive to make every experience for our guests the most memorable in every season.
WHAT DO YOU HAVE PLANNED FOR US? We're the only resort on Broome's iconic Cable Beach and our guests know we'll work tirelessly to ensure they have the best holiday experience in Broome.
ESSENTIALS Cable Beach Club Resort & Spa has 225 rooms, including studios, bungalows, club apartments, villas and suites. Rooms start from $261 a night. See cablebeachclub.com
LONGITUDE 131, ULURU-KATA TJUTA, NORTHERN TERRITORY
Photo: George Apostolidis
HAYLEY BAILLIE,CO-FOUNDER AND CREATIVE DIRECTOR
MISSING US? Although Longitude 131 caters to a maximum of just 34 guests at a time, it's been doubly quiet here without them. We're really looking forward to welcoming guests back to the lodge and to the incredible Red Centre. Usually around half our guests are from overseas and half domestic travellers. For the next little while we're looking forward to having Aussie guests and showing them the wonders waiting in their own backyard! For some Aussie travellers who haven't been to Uluru or Kata Tjuta – and even for those who have - now's the perfect time to visit.
WHAT ARE WE MISSING? Longitude 131 is the only accommodation where you can see Uluru from the end of the bed. It's the place to experience the Red Centre in style. There's loads to do, and we'd always recommend splurging on a departure heli flight to the airport to see the landscape from the air. One of our favourite adventures is the day tour to the Aboriginal Arts Community of Ernabella in the APY Lands, it's a wonderful chance to meet the artists and see the genesis of much of the indigenous art that's displayed around the lodge. Uluru and Kata Tjuta are ideal subjects for photography – and there are just a few places left for our Uluru Photo Safari with Richard I'Anson in October:
SO WHEN CAN WE VISIT AGAIN? We've announced our reopening on August 21, and really winter and spring are ideal seasons to visit. The local Aboriginal Anangu call this time "wari" (cold) when the nights are cold and the days are clear and warm. But there's really something for everyone right throughout the year. Summer tends to be hot here – so happily we have a couple of pool options for guests, each within easy reach of a refreshing cocktail. Saltbush margarita anyone?
WHAT DO YOU HAVE PLANNED FOR US? The team remaining at Longitude 131 has worked on a property refreshment over the past few months and we've continued with our revegetation program, planting an additional 200 natives including a number of Sturts Desert Rose plants and some very different bush foods. There's new interpretative signage along the "Longitude Loop" which laps the property and is perfect for a morning run. Just last weekend we cycled around the rock with the kids; it's a lovely alternative to walking. Next time we might give Uluru Segways a try.
ESSENTIALS From $1700 a person per night includes all dining, open bar with French Champagne, premium wines and spirits, in-tent bar, signature experiences and return Ayers Rock Airport transfers. Phone (02) 9918 4355. See longitude131.com.au,
CALYPSO REEF CRUISES, PORT DOUGLAS QUEENSLAND
ADAM JONES, EXPERIENCE CO-GENERAL MANAGER
MISSING US? Yes, we miss you! Port Douglas is a very popular destination for New South Wales and Victorian holiday makers, especially during the cooler months as our temperatures are around 26 degrees during the day and drop to 17 degrees at night. The pandemic has been difficult for everyone and Calypso is no exception.We're slowly bringing Calypso back into operation with all the COVID-19 safety plans and protocols for guests and crew in place.
WHAT ARE WE MISSING? I'm afraid you are missing our whale season, with a couple of humpback whales spotted off Port Douglas over the last couple of weeks. Minke whales are usually around as well, but they are commonly seen in and around the reef systems. Winter is stunning here in the Cairns and Great Barrier Reef region, a great time to explore the reef for snorkelling and diving and also see the ancient Daintree Rainforest or simply relax in picturesque Port Douglas.
SO WHEN CAN WE VISIT AGAIN? Calypso Reef Cruises is actually operating, first for a boat of lucky locals heading out for a snorkelling and diving adventure. With the school holidays starting, we anticipate a small surge in numbers as Queenslanders can travel around the state. Calypso will operate snorkel, dive and Low Isles tours every day during theholidays. We are excited for the September/October school holidays when Port Douglas will hopefully be busy with domestic travellers from all over Australia. The best time to visit will be as soon as you can, once the borders are open.
WHAT DO YOU HAVE PLANNED FOR US? The experience on Calypso Reef Cruises will not change post-pandemic, but capacity is reduced to allow for social distancing. Of course there are some additional precautions in shops and onboard our vessels and transport vehicles with signs throughout reminding guests and crew of handwashing regularly. We're cleaning high traffic areas frequently and disinfecting snorkelling and diving equipment, but this does not affect the overall experience.
ESSENTIALS Calypso Snorkel & Dive offers daily snorkel and dive tours to the Outer Great Barrier Reef. Visiting three reef sites, guests explore rich and diverse coral gardens. Cost is It costs $269 for adults and $189 children or $727 for a family of two adults and two children. See calypsoreefcruises.com
RAWNSLEY PARK STATION, SOUTH AUSTRALIA
Photo: Matt Nettheim
OWNERS TONY AND JULIE SMITH
MISSING US? Those first two weeks of April were emotionally tough. First responding to all the cancellations and then being here for Easter with not a visitor on the property. We were preparing ourselves for a few months of shutdown, then when South Australia opened up internally in May we experienced a real surge in inquiry for the Flinders Ranges and have been hoping that the same will happen when the interstate borders open. We normally get about 40 per cent of our customers from interstate, so we're looking forward to the borders opening.
WHAT ARE WE MISSING? Rawnsley Park Station overlooks the southern side of Wilpena Pound, in the northern Flinders Ranges. The station offers a range of accommodation, amazing scenery, abundant native wildlife and a full range of activities and facilities, including bushwalking, cycling, 4WD tours, scenic flights and a heli-camping experience. The Station is also a base for exploring the nearby Ikara Flinders Ranges National Park and Bunyeroo and Brachina gorges – home to 630 million year-old geological formations including Ediacaran fossils, the earliest animals on earth. There's also plenty of native wildlife – look out for the yellow-footed rock wallaby.
SO WHEN CAN WE VISIT? Visitors from the Northern Territory, Western Australia and Tasmania have been allowed to enter since June 17. We hope to re-open to travellers from all other states on July 20. The best time to visit the Flinders Ranges is during the cooler months (April – October). During winter you can expect cool clear days followed by frosty nights. Going into spring, the weather warms up quite quickly so you need to get out early to enjoy the best part of the day.
WHAT DO YOU HAVE PLANNED FOR US? We will have all of our facilities and activities operational from July 1. The accommodation and caravan park are very much as they were pre-COVID-19. We have developed a detailed cleaning regime to protect both visitors and staff and 4WD tours are restricted to groups/families travelling together. The restaurant is fully operational with a takeaway menu and in-house dining.
ESSENTIALS Rawnsley Park Station Flinders Ranges Way, Hawker South Australia. Bush camping sites from $29 a night, powered camping sites from $39, holiday units from $195, Ecovillas from $470. Phone (08) 8648 0700. See www.rawnsleypark.com.au
PENNICOTT WILDERNESS JOURNEYS, TASMANIA
OWNER ROBERT PENNICOTT
MISSING US? Yes, absolutely! We had a great summer here in Tasmania but unfortunately COVID-19 quickly brought that to a halt. Our business went into hibernation and we had to reduce our costs to a bare minimum. It's been a challenging time for me, my staff, our industry partners and the state as a whole. Tasmania is the state most reliant on tourism, and our visitor economy is a crucial economic pillar with New South Wales and Victoria our biggest markets. We're definitely looking forward to getting back on the water - we miss the buzz we get from being out on the water and sharing it with guests.
WHAT ARE WE MISSING? Our cruises highlight spectacular coastal formations including caves, sea stacks and blowholes. It's an incredible feeling to be at the base of the highest sea cliffs in the southern hemisphere, gazing up as 300 metres of Jurassic dolerite towers above you. But the wildlife is really the highlight – seals, dolphins, migrating whales and seabirds. They're still out there and we cannot wait to get back out there with them.
WHEN CAN WE VISIT? We plan to restart our cruises from July 1. Tasmania's border restrictions are expected to lift somewhere between late July and early September and we're looking forward to welcoming interstate visitors back again. Every season has something special about it and Tasmania is great to visit all-year-round once the borders are open. In the meantime we also have our Wilsons Promontory Cruises operating in Victoria's spectacular Gippsland region.
WHAT DO YOU HAVE PLANNED FOR US? We've been working hard to make all of our experiences COVID-safe including reduced capacity on our boats and buses and additional cleaning. We're fortunate that the amazing environment, the scenery and the stories are there and waiting for us to explore. We've got an incredible journey ahead and we look forward to sharing it with you.
ESSENTIALS Pennicott Wilderness Journeys operates from Hobart, Bruny Island, Port Arthur, Coles Bay (in Tasmania) and Wilsons Promontory (in Victoria). The three-hour Tasman Island cruise costs $145 for adults, $90 children and $460 for a family of up to five. See www.pennicottjourneys.com.au