With the highly anticipated and adapted British & Irish Lions Rugby tour to South Africa about to commence, and with his own adventure there sadly having to be cancelled, it was timely to receive a wonderful review from my fabulous client Rick, reminiscing about the trip I helped organise for him to see the Lions in Australia...
A few years back, I travelled with my close rugby mate to Australia in their midwinter to follow the British and Irish Lions. Ruth had expertly arranged a bespoke tour revolving around the three matches to be played in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney.
We wanted to travel independently, in a campervan, making our own way to the match venues. The priority was for Ruth to ensure we had tickets for each of the matches, our flights to Brisbane and back from the last venue, Sydney, our campervan for the three weeks duration, plus the first night in a motel. The rest was down to us.
We stayed with friends in London the night before departing who kindly drove us to Heathrow. Travelling in late June there were few families on board, however, there were a number of rugby supporters following the team like ourselves. Although a long journey, the expectation of a first Lions’ tour was well worth the time in the air.
On arrival at Brisbane airport, Ruth had arranged a much-appreciated private connection to the motel, strategically booked just around the corner from where we needed to pick up the campervan the following morning.
We had an Apollo 6-berth, which meant plenty of space to relax, sleep and eat and everything that we needed was on board. The adventure was now really about to begin.
I had been in Australia some ten years earlier on an educational visit and I knew that the outdoor, sporting, ‘can do and no worries’ culture was going to make it a memorable trip.
What we were not prepared for was the number of supporters from the UK and Ireland and the unforgettable sea of red in the three cities we visited.
Brisbane was a good first stop and walking around in shorts all day, following early morning al fresco breakfasts in the middle of their winter, was a great start to the tour. Each test match was on succeeding Saturdays, so we could take our time travelling between destinations.
We hadn’t fully appreciated the distances involved, the never-ending long, straight roads, the number of dead animals on the side of roads and the size of some of the lorries and trailers.
We had decided to travel through Australia rather than take the more popular coastal route, enabling us to experience the less commercial places.
We discovered wonderful transport cafes and to die for meat pies. We found, by chance, where bushranger, outlaw, gang leader and convicted police murderer, Ned Kelly, had lived and the souvenirs related to him - a whole industry built up in a super-friendly little town, miles from anywhere.
We drove through small villages surrounded by eucalyptus trees, desperately looking for koala bears. Sadly, I never saw one although signposts told us to be aware of them!
In each of the three cities, we loved simply wandering about and exploring. Whether it was taking the trams in Melbourne, strolling along the riverside in Brisbane or taking in the ferries in Sydney Harbour.
We were lucky with the weather overall, it wasn’t too hot or cold and we could go around in shorts, although in the evening when the rugby matches were played, we needed to be well wrapped up!
The trip was made even more special when my eldest son decided to come out for the last two matches - without tickets - just to soak up the atmosphere. At least he had his accommodation sorted in the 6-berth campervan and he ended up getting tickets at cost price because of meeting people on campsites or in pubs.
Throughout the stay, we had no issues with the locals and even the banter at the rugby matches was taken in good spirit.
As this was a rugby tour with a difference, we got to know several pubs, particularly in Sydney. A visit to the ‘Fortune of War’ on The Rocks above Sydney Harbour warrants a visit. It's the city’s oldest pub and serves a good selection of drinks. They don’t always appreciate the fine singing of the Australian National Anthem or ‘Sweet Caroline’ but that’s all part of a rugby tour.
If you want to have a guaranteed good time in any of the three cities we visited, you could not do better than find one of the Irish pubs, not just for the Guinness, but the craic!
In Sydney, you are spoilt for choice in terms of restaurants and pubs, especially around the harbour. One restaurant I do highly recommend is Doyles in Watson Bay, an amazing seafood restaurant just a short ferry ride away from the main harbour terminal. You can sit outside and watch the pelicans glide by whilst tucking into a John Dory. I have not tasted better seafood anywhere in the world and the platters are unbelievable.
Anywhere by the harbour, with the Bridge and Opera House, is a must-see. If you are not scared of heights, I would recommend the Sydney Bridge Climb. It's perfectly safe - with groups of up to a dozen people linked together with harnesses - and the view from the middle is truly amazing. Add in the souvenir photographs and a Climber Certificate, what could be better?
Given that this was a bespoke tour, our main concern had been the match tickets themselves and Ruth turned up trumps with these. From there, we were happy to sort ourselves out, with campsites easy to find, spacious and with all the facilities you would expect.
At all sites, receptionists and workers were always very helpful and friendly and in most, we found ourselves with fellow supporters and ex-pats.
Travelling by campervan through parts of this vast country influenced further trips down under. Ruth has since organised a similar tour, from Perth to Darwin, and one around Tasmania, both were without the rugby and with my wife and I cannot recommend this way of experiencing these wonderful places highly enough.
Ruth organises the main structure of the journey and you then have the flexibility to explore as you wish. We are in the process of arranging our next visit for when Australia re-opens.
We are delighted with the service that Ruth provides. She could not have been more helpful.