Hurray for more happy landings

You can't yet fly direct to Australia. But, says Simon Calder, with so many exciting stopover locations to choose from, why would you want to?

We have the technology. Aircraft design has improved to the point that it is now feasible to make the journey from the UK to Australia in a single hop, getting the dreadful business of being shut inside a tube of aluminium over with in one go. The latest generation of Airbus has the ability to fly non-stop with a full payload between London and Perth (Sydney is still a touch too far). The A340-500, which enters service this autumn, is the world's first ultra-long-haul aircraft. The new plane could reduce the 9,000-mile journey to 16 hours. Within two-thirds of a day, you could reach the country that was this week voted best in the world by readers of Condé Nast Traveller magazine.

We have the technology. Aircraft design has improved to the point that it is now feasible to make the journey from the UK to Australia in a single hop, getting the dreadful business of being shut inside a tube of aluminium over with in one go. The latest generation of Airbus has the ability to fly non-stop with a full payload between London and Perth (Sydney is still a touch too far). The A340-500, which enters service this autumn, is the world's first ultra-long-haul aircraft. The new plane could reduce the 9,000-mile journey to 16 hours. Within two-thirds of a day, you could reach the country that was this week voted best in the world by readers of Condé Nast Traveller magazine.

Yet no airline intends to offer such a service, because none believes that the demand from travellers will justify it. A good thing, too: if you fly almost halfway around the world, seven miles below you on planet Earth are some wonderful places. A change (of planes) is as good as a rest.

It is tempting at this point to write "the range of stopover options has never been wider", but because of September 11 last year it would not be quite true: Alitalia, Gulf Air, KLM and SriLankan have recently ended services to Australia. But a plethora of possibilities remains. To try to help you through them, these are my top 10 stopover suggestions. Bear in mind that a good agent can combine them, so that you could, for example, island-hop your way around the world: fly outbound on SriLankan Airlines and Emirates via the Maldives and Sri Lanka to Sydney, and back from Australia via Rarotonga, Fiji and Hawaii on Air New Zealand.

Before you book, bear several important points in mind. Seeking advice from a specialist long-haul agent will usually get you a better deal than going direct to the airlines. Next, if you plan to go around the world, flying eastwards via Asia will save you a good seven hours on the time in flight, due to the effect of the Gulf Stream. Third, adding additional "off-line" stopovers to an itinerary – for example, trying to squeeze in Delhi to a Thai Airways deal to Australia – can increase the cost considerably. And besides the options listed below, there are dozens of others, including Aerolineas Argentinas via Buenos Aires, Lauda Air via Vienna, Korean Air via Seoul, and Air Canada via Vancouver and Hawaii.

SIMPLY SINGAPORE

Each evening at Heathrow, an extraordinary convoy departs. Between 10.05pm and 10.25pm, four jumbo jets are scheduled to take off for Singapore: two in the colours of British Airways, one from its partner, Qantas, and a fourth belonging to Singapore Airlines.

Singapore, the Clapham Junction of Asian aviation, has more Australian options than any other airport, and the UK is the most significant supplier of travellers. Add in a couple of lunchtime departures and a take-off earlier in the evening, plus a nightly jumbo from Manchester, and that totals more than 3,000 people a day touching down at Changi airport from Britain.

Plenty of people choose this route because of the high quality of the airlines, the competitiveness of the fares and the vast range of connection opportunities, to all Australia's state capitals and beyond. I suggest two contrasting Singapore stopovers: one, to spend at least a few days exploring the rich cultural texture of the city-state; and the second to spend half a day getting acquainted with the airport. Changi wins "world's best airport" awards routinely, but there is nothing routine about a place where transit travellers can sip Tiger beer beside a rooftop swimming pool at the planet's most prestigious planespotter location.

JAPAN EXPRESS

The "Great Circle" route, the most direct line between London and Sydney, begins by heading north-east to Moscow and across Siberia. The first part of the Heathrow-Tokyo-Brisbane/ Sydney flight on Japan Airlines follows the same track, touching down 6,000 miles later at Narita airport. The arrival time, in late afternoon, is ideal for coping with the eight-hour time-zone change: take a train into the centre of Japan's capital, go out for some sushi and sake, and collapse into bed or, if you are staying in a traditional Japanese ryokan, on to a futon.

Next morning, you will discover that Tokyo is one of the world's great cities, bigger, faster and flashier than London, but with plenty of serene corners. The Japanese capital is home to around 20 million people, a mesmerising mix of sights, sounds and smells that amalgamate ancient tradition and 21st-century aspirations.

More practically, if you are planning to visit east-coast Australia, this ticket offers a free hop between Brisbane and Sydney.

AMERICAN DREAM

With many United Airlines tickets to Australia, you can choose any reasonable route between the UK and Los Angeles, where you board the jumbo to Sydney. From Heathrow, the main options are Boston, New York, Chicago and Washington DC. Whatever American itch you have, there should be an itinerary to match it: culture in Manhattan, glamour in Las Vegas, skiing in Salt Lake City, music in San Francisco or sipping coffee in Seattle.

CHINA CONNECTION

Five years ago Hong Kong became part of the People's Republic of China, but this change of status has not affected the former British territory's role as a favourite stopover to Australia. Most days, three Cathay Pacific wide-bodied jets from London Heathrow touch down at the stunning new airport, with fast connections at Cathay's "Superhub" to a wide range of Australian destinations. But instead take the express train to the heart of Hong Kong, for instant immersion in the Orient.

SRI LANKAN SOJOURN

Not many people know this (nor, indeed, care), but the original British Airways one-stop flight to Australia touched down to refuel at Colombo airport en route to Perth. BA has long abandoned the route, and SriLankan Airlines gave up its flights to Sydney after the terrorist attack on Colombo airport that wrecked several aircraft. But you can fly from Colombo to Singapore on SriLankan, and then on to Sydney or Melbourne on its partner airline, Emirates,

A new option has recently opened up: SriLankan Airlines now routes two of its flights to Colombo each week via Male, capital of the Maldives. You can shake off the strains of the journey as you snorkel or scuba through amazing coral reefs; divers must schedule in rest days before catching any onward flight.

THAI TRAVEL

Bangkok is ideally placed for anyone wanting to explore south-east Asia in more depth. The Thai capital is less overwhelming than it might first appear, and grows on you with time. But if your time is short, then head north to Chiang Mai and the highlands. Or go south to the beaches of Phuket or Krabi. Once here, you are temptingly close to Penang in Malaysia, then the Cameron Highlands, and further south to Malacca. Luckily, with most British Airways/Qantas tickets, you can fly into Bangkok and make your way overland to Singapore to pick up your Australia-bound flight. Or take the Qantas Outback ticket, which allows a stop in Bangkok (or Singapore, Hong Kong or Bali) plus a free stop in Perth – effectively a free 2,000-mile flight across Australia.

PACIFIC-ISLAND HOPPING

On Air New Zealand you could fly out from Heathrow to Los Angeles and connect with another non-stop flight to Sydney, but to do so would be to waste the chance of a lifetime to visit islands such as Fiji, Rarotonga and Tahiti, not forgetting the North and South Islands of New Zealand. This is the long way around to Australia, but if you break the journey into small segments you will barely notice the distance.

MALAYSIAN LIAISON

Kuala Lumpur is working hard to keep up with Singapore, Hong Kong and Bangkok as a premier-league gateway to Australia, with 21 Malaysia Airlines jumbos from Heathrow and Manchester each week. The airline offers onward connections across Australia, but it also has a little-known stopover deal that enables you to see much more of Malaysia en route. On many tickets, you can get a free side-trip to any Malaysia Airlines domestic destination, or Singapore, so long as you book accommodation (which is reasonably priced) through the airline. With a flight to Kuching in Sarawak or Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, this could be your big chance to reach Borneo unless you go for the full island experience with the next option...

BRUNEI BRING-YOUR-OWN

Royal Brunei has boosted its London services to one a day, making a traditional low-cost option to Darwin, Perth and Brisbane more convenient. The oil-rich state occupies an enclave on Borneo, from which you can explore the rest of Borneo. The airline is "dry", serving no alcohol, although "damp" is a better term, since you are welcome to bring your own drinks on board. On all flights from London, a stopover in the Gulf – at Dubai or Abu Dhabi – is an extra option.

BRIDGING THE GULF

The small states of the Gulf were written off as aviation stopovers when the new generation of long-haul aircraft emerged in the late 1980s. With no need to refuel between Europe and the Far East, the argument went, places such as Dubai would be consigned to airline oblivion. Fifteen years on, Dubai's hi-tech airport is becoming one of the busiest in the world for long-haul flights. British travellers fly in on Emirates from Birmingham, Gatwick, Heathrow and Manchester, and transfer for onward flights to Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. But with the airport only three miles from the tranquil creek at the heart of a pulsating city, add an Arabian adventure to your Antipodean wandering.

Additional research by Arran Sutherland

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Could you tell the difference between this and an organic alternative?
food + drink

Culinary experts in The Netherlands thought it was 'fresh' and 'tasty'

Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to US
Life and Style
tech

Of all the computers Apple has ever made there’s only one that Steve Jobs had to sell his car to finance

News
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday

Actress sees off speculation about her face in an amazing way

Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidates on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
One of the 'princesses' in the video
videoYouTube reinstates sweary video after takedown for 'violating terms'
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
Arts and Entertainment
film

Marvel has released first teaser trailer week early after it leaked online

Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Financial Controller

    £50000 - £60000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful entertainment, even...

    Direct Marketing Executive - Offline - SW London

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A fantastic opportunity h...

    Day In a Page

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?