5 ways to... enjoy an exotic stopover on the way to Australia
Adjust your body clock and explore an exciting city en route, says Simon Calder
Simon Calder’s career in travel started at Gatwick Airport, where he cleaned aircraft for Laker Airways and later worked as a security officer. He became The Independent’s Travel Correspondent in 1994, and is known as “the Man Who Pays His Way” because he does not accept free travel facilities. He writes across the Independent titles, as well as for the Evening Standard.
Wednesday 15 January 2014
You could make the long haul to Australia in 24 hours – but to do so is to miss the opportunity to discover a new city or region. Stopping over also helps your body clock adjust, by re-setting it to a point between GMT and Australia's three time zones. The usual suspects for a stopover – such as Singapore, Bangkok, Dubai, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur – are all worthwhile, but thanks to the UK's status as world hub of aviation, you could set your sights on somewhere even more exotic.
You can, of course, contact each airline direct, but it is usually worth enlisting the help of a long-haul specialist such as Trailfinders (020 7368 1200; trailfinders.com), DialAFlight (0844 811 4444; dialaflight.com) or Travel Nation (01273 320580; travelnation.co.uk) to put together the components of a trip. Fares quoted are for travel in April; other dates may be more expensive.
By starting a Chinese whisper
The three big airlines in the People's Republic offer excellent fares to Australia from London via their hubs. Air China departs from Heathrow (and, from March, Gatwick) to Beijing; China Eastern flies Heathrow-Shanghai; and China Southern connects Heathrow with Guangzhou. Common to each of these cities is the chance to stop over for 72 hours without going through the palaver of obtaining a Chinese visa. You are not allowed to leave the city during those three days, but there is plenty to keep you interested. In the imperial and revolutionary capital, Beijing, the highlight is the Forbidden City; Shanghai amazes for its sheer scale and ambition; and Guangzhou combines a sultry southern location on the Pearl River with colour and energy. Air China (00 800 86 100 999; airchina.co.uk) offers London-Sydney returns for £767.
By making a Texan connection
Texas is a land apart; the biggest state in the Continental US is big, brash, beautiful – and above all, friendly. You can reach America's cowboy capital, Fort Worth, with half-an-hour of touchdown; then pay your respects to President Kennedy at the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas. This itinerary also allows you to visit two Australian cities. The world's longest flight connects Sydney with Dallas-Fort Worth; so long is it, that in the opposite direction the plane has to stop in Brisbane to refuel. And coming home, you can choose between BA via Singapore or Qantas via Dubai for an extra stopover. A Oneworld circuit (rtw.oneworld.com) using BA to Dallas, Qantas to Brisbane and Sydney, and BA back to Heathrow via Singapore costs £2,763, though agents may well be able to find cheaper options.
By choosing a thriller in Manila
In November, Philippine Airlines opened the longest route from London, a non-stop link from Heathrow to Manila. The Filipino capital is noisy, colourful and exuberant, but you can also find calm within Intramuros, the walled city established by the Spanish when they ruled the Philippines as an annexe of Mexico. San Agustin Church is intensely atmospheric. The city's grand hotel to match the Oriental in Bangkok and Raffles in Singapore, is the Manila Hotel, where Bill Clinton and Michael Jackson stayed (though not at the same time). Dine at the fish market, where you choose your catch from the vendors and take it to one of the many surrounding restaurants to be cooked. Extend your stay by a few days and you can explore more of the beautiful island of Luzon, ringed by beaches and punctuated by volcanoes. Philippine Airlines (01293 596680; philippineairlines.com) has a fare of £825 from London to Sydney and back.
By going wild in Borneo
The national airline of Brunei, Royal Brunei, celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. It flies the 787 Dreamliner from Heathrow via Dubai to its base, Bandar Seri Begawan, with onward connections to Melbourne. The oil-rich Sultanate is fascinating, but even better is to get off the beaten track in the Malaysian state of Sabah. You can have a close encounter with orangutans, a beach stay on an island just off Kota Kinabalu, or climb to the peak of Mount Kinabalu – the highest summit in South-east Asia – to watch the sun rise over the South China Sea. Royal Brunei (020 7584 6660; flyroyalbrunei.com) has a fare of £747 return from Heathrow to Melbourne.
By starting a Mauritius rumour
It's true: you can combine the gorgeous Anglo-French island in the Indian Ocean with the vast and beautiful state of Western Australia. Mauritius is a very long haul from Heathrow (or many other UK airports via Paris), but when you touch down the stresses of the journey fade away in the tropical warmth. Many visitors get no further than the beach or pool of their luxury Mauritian hotel. But the capital, Port Louis, is worth exploring for the vibrant market and the stuffed dodo in the museum. In the hinterland, you can find old sugar plantations and spectacular scenery sculpted by rivers and waterfalls. Air Mauritius (020 7434 4375; airmau ritius.com) flies from Heathrow to Perth for £1,021 return.
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