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 collapseinto 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?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Voices
Focus E15 Mothers led a protest to highlight the lack of affordable housing in London
voicesLondon’s housing crisis amounts to an abuse of human rights, says Grace Dent
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

    Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

    Old Royal Naval College: ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Sales Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This airport parking organisation are looking...

    Recruitment Genius: PCV Bus Drivers

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Do you enjoy bus driving and are looking for ...

    Day In a Page

    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea