Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Wrong side of the road

So another update on Australia planning because, well, it's only the biggest trip of our life, so these things tend to occupy a bit of your mental space when it's now officially less than two months until we're on our way.

The latest update is that we've taken care of accommodations in Cairns. We debated staying at a Holiday Inn because we thought we spotted a good deal. However, once we bounced around all the different currency exchanges, we found out it wasn't such a great deal after all. Instead, we stumbled across a new looking hostel, found a nice room with an en suite bath and they will pick us up at the airport. The difference was nearly $300 for a six day stay, so that was that.

By the way, we started using Kayak for looking at things like accommodations and whatnot. It's not perfect, but it does save you a lot of time. And it does confirm pretty much what you already know. Barring the occasional fluke all the major travel booking sites - Travelocity, Orbitz, Priceline, Expedia, etc - all end up within a few cents of each other when you're poking around.

You've also got to watch the exchange rates. Some of the sites using Australian dollars, some US dollars and sometimes even Canadian dollars. What looks like a good deal doesn't quite work out that way once you do the exchange rates and take a look at any additional fees.

Next up in the planning is a potential act of madness. We're not particularly happy with the railway running through Queensland. I'm sure they're lovely trains and all, but their lack of frequency and the times they run is what's getting to us. It's kind of limiting where we want to stay and for how long. And yes, we could get the bus. It's how my dad travelled that part of the world when he went.

But consider it a residual hang-over from my time riding on DRL buses in Newfoundland, but I just can't do it. I don't care how comfortable the bus is, I hate riding on them. Loathe it. I can do them in cities for short period of times. But if you want to stick me on one for seven hours or so, I will go mad.

So we're looking at renting a car. I would have thought it would be too expensive and that any agency would crucify us with fees for picking up a car in one city and dropping it off in another. But surprisingly, that's not the case. There's no problem at all with renting a car in Cairns and dropping it off in Brisbane. No extra fees or anything.

The problem is trying to figure out which rental agency to go with. Some of the cheaper ones I haven't heard of before - Europcar and AutoEurope - and then there are the standbys like Avis and Budget, but which are considerably more expensive. I've also discovered it's completely useless to research if they're a reliable rental company or not. The only industry where people hate what you do more than airlines is quite possibly car rentals. I went to one site where you could evaluate the quality of different car rental agencies and rate them from 1 to 10. Excluding companies with less than 10 comments, I think the highest rating was 3. Virtually every comment was a rant filled with profanity explaining how the car company ruined their vacation.

Despite this, we will probably rent a car. I've been told by friends who have driven on the left-hand side of the road that you adapt quickly enough, although freeways can throw you for a bit. Oh, and Cathy is promising to share some of the driving, which is good. A straight shot from Cairns to Brisbane is about 1,700 km. Throw in detours off the beaten track and we'll easily be going over 2,000 km in about eight days. So breaks in driving so I can look around and enjoy the scenery will be nice.

Booking the Whitsundays is next and then after that, we'll see...

Last Five
1. My bionic eyes - Liz Phair
2. Tinker behind the door - Figgy Duff
3. Mystic river - Blue Rodeo
4. Carolina drama - The Raconteurs*
5. Panama (live) - Van Halen


Matt, Kara, Hunter and Cavan said...

I rented a car when I was there in 2001, and it was a great option. Sorry I cannot remember who I rented from!

The funniest was I kept changing lanes using my windshield wipers instead of blinker. It was also a standard, but the gears are in the same place as our cars, but since you are not, it was interesting!

Good luck getting through all of the roundabouts!!

Hallett said...

Europcar is fine, at least anytime I have rented from them in Europe. In my experience, the best deal on paper is the best deal, as long as it does not involve an insane shuttle from the airport.

Driving on the left is intimidating, but kind of fun too. Do it. It makes driving brand new again. Even a drive to the store requires the concentration of a grand prix. The only issue I had was parking - parallel backing is a challenge when you are on the other side of the car.

In Iqaluit said...

Even though rail or road you will get to see more of the country, I flew Virgin Blue when I was in Australia. It's a discount airline. It's worth looking into, methinks.

JH said...

Drove on the other side of the road in England/Scotland. You will glance to the right to look into the rear view mirror at least a hundred times.

Be careful with the one way rentals. They may charge you mileage or there may be an additional fee that is not "advertised". Or mileage up to 50km may be included and all the rest is charged. Especially smaller car rentals companies do not like a car moving long distances from its home. My wife is in corporate accounts for a car rental company so I have a bit of experience.

towniebastard said...

Thanks for the advise, folks. I do appreciate it.

We've decided to rent the car and will likely go with Europcar. We're just kind of deciding how many days to rent it. Likely eight or nine days.

And JH, thanks for the tip. I'd already noticed that Europcar's "unlimited mileage" is, in fact, 500 km of "unlimited mileage" per day. That's some deeply sneaky and borderline legal wording right there. Still, that's plenty for what we need.

Oh, and we plan to use Virgin Blue to get us from Sydney to Cairns. Three hours up, 2.5 weeks to get back down...

Jackie S. Quire said...

I have rented from Europcar.

When I was in the UK last summer I drove from Edinburgh to the Highlands down to Manchester and into London.

Like you said, you do get on to the left-hand thing pretty quickly, you just follow the flow of traffic.

The tricky part will be getting back to Iqaluit. When you start second-guessing whether you are on the right/correct side of the road or not

tanker belle said...

Himself likes Hertz and has used his AC airmiles to pay the bill...also recommends Enterprise, they were considerbly cheaper than anyone else when we were in the UK and yet no problems. Not sure if either of those companies exists in AU.

Aida said...

i didnt rent a car but i got on the not fun but cheap. i would look into virgin blue or jetair?? i cant remember the 2nd one for cheap airline tickets.

have fun!