ATA is a tour company that has been established since 1992. Their motto is “small groups, big adventures”, which I truly believe they live up to. They have positioned themselves as the leading tour and transport operator in Australia offering packages that suit all budgets and tours that run throughout the country. They pride themselves with a reputation of excellence, innovation and reliability.
There were two of us travelling. After much deliberation we finalized our travel plans to stick with two of their most popular tours on the East Coast: the 3 Day Grampians and Ocean Road Explorer, and the Cairns to Gold Coast Explorer. We had picked these two tours out as we had family in Melbourne and I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to visit the Whitsunday Islands. The next close picks were tours on the West coast between Perth and Darwin, so maybe next time.
All in all, we were with this company for about 14 days total so I’ll try summarize my time with them. I’ll start with the tour guides and transport as these were the same for both, then I’ll break it down per tour.
Also, random fact, we decided to go on this tour in the weeks leading up to Christmas. This was also the same month where the big floods in Queensland happened. Fortunately for us, we were ahead of the floods by a day. If we were held up for any reason, we were sure to have been a part of the nightly news of stranded locals and tourists.
Following their motto of small groups, the average max number on any tour is roughly 15 - 20. Sometimes more if it is a larger or longer excursion. The buses they used on these specific trips are not the typical oversized coach but just a humble mini bus. They are slightly a bit older, but are air-conditioned (much needed for the tropical heat up north) and are comfortable. I’d say it’s cozy but I liked it that way, closer quarters meant it breaks the ice between fellow strangers and the rest of your time with them goes a whole lot smoother.
I was very impressed with both our guides on the tours. The guides act as both the information holder and the driver. They are also the mechanic, chef and are stand up comedians. Both are born and bred Australians, are hilarious and were definitely one of the top things on my list of what makes this company great.
The second and third day was our journey back to Melbourne via the infamous Great Ocean Road. At the same time was also when Ms Oprah Winfrey was visiting, or so we were told. We did see many helicopters flying above but I’d like to think she was in one of them. I understand now why this road is so popular. The rock formations, the ocean side, and the endless wilderness is definitely not to be missed. After checking into our next night’s accommodation we came back to watch the sunset over the sea and return just in time before a storm hit. Accommodation for this night was superb. We were put in a motel, lots of space and very clean while the others were in a newly built backpackers lodge about 5 minutes walk away. I wouldn’t have minded staying there actually, the owners were lovely, a good common area, there were many showers and toilets and a decent sized kitchen with everything you need.
If you ever head towards northern Queensland, it is a MUST that you visit the Whitsundays. It is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, tropical reef and fish galore. The waters are warm and clear, the sand powdery white. If you can, get onto a chartered boat or catamaran that will take you to Whitehaven Beach, THE most beautiful beach I have ever been to yet. The picture below says it all but it also doesn’t do it justice. While wading through the shallow waters, we could see baby sharks and stingrays swimming idly by. The sand is tiny grains of white heaven, so soft and so clean. Random fact: If you have ever seen the movie ‘Fool’s Gold’, this is where they filmed the scene where Kate Hudson throws out all their treasure onto that white sand strip.