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South-West Western Australia road trip: a review of a Scenic bus tour

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wildflowers in western australia

 

Scenic bus tours in Western Australia

The south-west of Western Australia is a complex arrangement of sandy white beaches, rugged coastline, dusty outback and agricultural land.  There are soaring Karri trees, so tall they look as they might punch through the sky.  From small gold mining towns to unique rock formations, turquoise waters and wine and food regions showcasing local produce, there is so much to see and do.  I opened my eyes to a new part of Australia recently as I joined Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours for a journey through my home country.  

albany shore
Albany coastline

Read all about the highlights of my 12 day tour through south-west Western Australia

Who are Scenic Luxury Cruises and tours?

Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours is an Australian owned tour operator specialing in coach tours and river cruises.  They even have a luxury yacht in their portfolio.  Created in 1986, Scenic became known as a leader in coach tours that traversed the Australian continent.  As the awareness of these tours grew, they expanded into New Zealand and southern Africa, then Canada and Alaska.  The thirst for Scenic tours continued and as more time passed, further destinations in Europe, Russia, Asia and South America were added.  

scenic luggage

What to expect on the Scenic South-West Western Australia tour

Scenic will operate approximately 12 different types of tours in 2020/2021

  • The South-West Western Australia tour with Scenic undeniably covers a lot of territory.  There are some days when the time spent on the bus is long, with little to fascinate passengers from their seat on the luxury bus.  But, as I’ve explained in my Western Australia highlights article, this is Australia, and this is exactly what this tour offers, a chance to see the real country.  It’s not a tour that over sanitises everything so that passengers only get to see the pretty things or the overly curated locations.  The great thing is, that these days are in the minority, especially once the bus makes its way out of the areas of low population and heads to the coastline.
  • Expect to see some of the most incredible scenery Western Australia has to offer.  Some of them will not be seen anywhere else in the world.  Others will simply take your breath away.
  • You will have a lot of fun.  Many of the people on the tour will have done at least one Scenic tour before and will be well versed in how they operate.  Most of them are chatty and willing to get to know you.
  • The start and end location for this tour is Perth.  The official proceedings start with a briefing and then dinner on the first day.
  • The itinerary is what your brochure says or what you read online.  Unless there was an unforeseen issue (eg weather-related), you can expect to see everything that has been promoted.  If everything stays on time, and you have thoughtful tour directors, small additions and inclusions may be added to increase the enjoyment of passengers.
  • The entire itinerary is programmed and managed very tightly.  This is so everything on the itinerary as noted above can be achieved.  With a maximum of 40 passengers on board, it can be like herding cats when everyone gets off the bus.  Strict attention is given to time and is repeated constantly to ensure everyone knows when and where they are expected.  Whilst I am not at all used to this type of travel, I totally understand why it is necessary on such a tour.  Having passengers that don’t respect the time or their fellow travellers would cause no end of annoyance to all involved.  My group were fantastic and never late.  Actually, they were some of the most punctual people, collectively speaking that I have ever witnessed.
  • The days are long but there are only a few early starts with most of the days departing well after 8 am.   Dinner is usually between 6.30 pm and 7.30 pm so guests are settled into their hotel before then.
  • Two meals a day are provided as part of the rate.  With each night having hotel accommodation, this means that breakfast is included each morning.  On most occasions, dinner is provided, so lunch is left to each passenger’s own cost.  In the event that lunch is provided as part of the tour, expect that dinner will then be at your own cost.
  • Lunch options are generally a local cafe (if the town is large enough) or highway roadhouses.  They aren’t going to hit any culinary heights, but it’s once again a result of the remoteness of our itinerary.  On the days we stopped at roadhouses, we had a long drive and if we waited to find a beautiful little cafe somewhere, we might have been eating lunch at dinner time.  
  • Manage your expectations is the best advice I can give.  I know this as I had to manage mine but I was able to do this early.  As soon as I truly realised how remote some of these locations were, I was prepared for the types of locations we would eat and sleep at and the type of food we would eat.
  • The same goes for accommodation.  There is no five-star luxury hotel in the middle of the outback in Western Australia.  Not on our itinerary anyway.  Yes, Scenic is known for luxury, but when it doesn’t exist, it can’t be had.  Instead, where necessary, we stayed in local, country, quintessentially Australian motels.  With the exception of one location which was very ordinary, all accommodation was suited to where we were based overnight.
  • On the flip side, when we were in larger cities, particularly in the Margaret River and Fremantle, the hotels were excellent, and I’ll admit that coming at the end of the trip made them all the sweeter.
  • Generally dinner each evening is a buffet in order to satisfy the majority of passenger’s needs and to streamline time taken to serve.  There are some locations that have more of a fine-dining flair to them.  
  • When in transit to the main itinerary locations and stops that are made along the way, including lunch stops, are kept short.  
  • Food allergies and preferences can be accommodated but it’s important to make sure the tour director is aware of them, even if you have noted this in your pre-tour preferences.
  • Depending on who the tour operator is, there will be a specific process for seat rotation every day.  This ensures that everyone gets a chance to sit at the front of the bus, get a window seat etc.
  • There are plenty of toilet stops!  Long gone are the days when passengers could freely move about a moving bus.  Seat belts are installed in the coach and adherence to wearing them is strictly monitored.  Whilst there is a toilet on board, it is for emergencies only.  I don’t think I’ve ever stopped at so many public facilities in my life as I did on this trip!
  • Credit cards were accepted everywhere we went, even in the smallest towns, but it is good to have a little cash on you just in case. 
fremantle asylum
Fremantle

The Scenic team

Our tour was fortunate to be led by John Meikle the tour director and Adam Bernet, our bus driver.  Both were integral to the success of the tour and both were highly professional at all times.  It goes without saying that this would be the case, given their longevity and experience in this business.  John manages the program tightly, ensuring that timelines are met.  Adam is simply the best bus driver I have ever come across.  He’s also one of the few remaining bus drivers that are allowed to also give tour commentary.  Many of the other providers both in Australia and overseas no longer allow this.  More would be the pity as Adam provided great insight.

Both are knowledgeable about the Western Australian landscapes, locations and culture, interjecting whenever necessary to ensure we understood where we were going and some of the local history.

Both also made sure that all passengers were looked after at all times, tending to any individual requests or nuances as required.  A good tour is always one where all guests get to the end without damage, without issue and a good time had by all.  But none of this happens automatically.  John and Adam work hard in the background, phoning ahead to order meals, checking the hotel is ready, ensuring special requests for food are catered for, luggage is taken to rooms etc.  The logistics at play on such a tour are enormous but done in a way that causes no disruption to the guests.

Who should go on a Scenic tour in Australia?

I’d love to say everyone because the places we visited on the Scenic tour were fantastic.  However, there is a specific market for this kind of tour.  As a person under 50, I was the youngest person on the tour.  Scenic’s market is in the over 50 category, but there are broad ranges to be seen here.  I don’t like flagging a particular age as I think this doesn’t truly reflect the types of people who love travelling in such a way. 

I don’t believe any of my fellow travellers chose this tour, or any other with Scenic because they are of a certain age.  Based on my time with them, they chose Scenic and this particular tour for more qualitative reasons.  I was surprised at how many have earned frequent travel status with Scenic.  Proudly wearing their name badges that highlighted their level of membership, or using their special backpacks that Scenic have produced to acknowledge their repeated custom.  

Mostly couples, there were also people travelling solo as they believed the Scenic way supported their travel goals and needs, with one noting “The single supplements are quite good with Scenic”.  Out of 39 travellers, all but two were from Australia, another strong market indicator for Scenic.  Australians love to travel and love to see their own country.  Some had already been on another Scenic tour from Darwin to Perth, immediately before this journey.  They have stamina that’s for sure!

Tours such as this also allow people to travel who may not be able to travel otherwise due to significant health or mobility issues.  These tours are all about camaraderie and I saw the generosity of spirit and friendship shown over and over again throughout the entire trip.  They are also perfect for people who love every inch of their trip to be organised.  They simply show up to the opening briefing and from there they don’t need to think about a thing until it’s all over.  

As a single traveller on this occasion, and outside my comfort zone in terms of the method of travel, these wonderful people opened up their arms to me and included me at every step.  Over what were many meals, we talked and shared stories about travel, about family and whatever else took our fancy.  On the bus each day there was more fun and interaction.  There were no side groups or cliques, just a group of people who were here to have a good time.

To help illustrate why these tours are so favoured, this is what some of the guests had to say.

“I love the fact that everything is on time and they know the best times to turn up at each location”

“I love not having to queue at the major sights”

“Not having to drive and navigate is one of the huge benefits of going on a trip like this”

“They take us right to where we need to get off, not in a remote carpark for example”. “We get taken right to the door”

“The accommodation and the food is all organised”

“Scenic manage to find local guides to talk to us and take us around”

“I don’t want to have to get my own food every night”

kerri wave rock
Hanging out on the top of Wave Rock

How much does the South-West tour cost?

For the most accurate pricing, head over to the Scenic website.

If you like paying for your holiday upfront and not having to continuously dig into your pocket for more then this trip will be perfect.  

What is included:

  • All tour activities and experiences
  • All accommodation
  • 23 meals 
  • Overall tour guide and local tour guides
  • Return airport transfers
  • All tipping and gratuities

In talking to the guests, the most common positive about the inclusive price related to tipping with many noting they found having to tip on top of everything an uncomfortable experience.  

asparagus meal leeuwin estate

What isn’t included:

The costs that aren’t included aren’t a surprise and mostly relate to personal costs.

  • Alcohol, additional food not included in the supplied meals, snacks, personal items, laundry, phone calls at hotels (if anyone still makes those!) etc.
  • Getting to and from Perth
  • Travel insurance, which is highly recommended.

Packing tips for the South-West tour

Scenic advise that for a coach tour the maximum luggage is 23 kilograms plus a day pack.  I could have packed less than what I eventually took if the weather had been more consistent.  One thing to be very mindful of in the south-west of Western Australia is how much the weather can change on a daily basis, but also the variation between areas east of Perth versus those on the southern coast.  I packed for two seasons and needed all of it.

Here are some basic packing requirements

  • Good walking shoes.  There is no excessive amount of walking but some of the areas visited are rocky and uneven.  You will walk some tracks, especially at Wave Rock.
  • Waterproof/windproof jacket
  • Jumper.  Even if it isn’t cold outside, the airconditioning on the coach can get a little cool for some.
  • Scarf
  • Casual clothes for the daytime
  • Mix of shirts/tops, casual shoes to change for dinner in the evening.  The dinner locations on this tour does not require any formal dress.
  • Sunglasses, hat, sunscreen and insect repellent
  • Refillable water bottle.  Scenic provides water to refill with.  Having your own cuts down on plastic.
  • Neck pillow.  Great for those times you want to have a snooze on the coach.
  • Headphones.  Great for those times when there’s not much going on outside. 
  • Mobile phone with appropriate voice and data coverage.  Note: In these areas, Telstra has got the best coverage but there are times when no service is available irrespective of the carrier.
  • Mobile phone charger or USB cable.  The coach was fitted with USB chargers which was fantastic.
  • Camera and relevant battery chargers
  • Snacks for the bus.  You can buy these along the way but it’s good to have a few to start with.
  • Medical supplies.   It’s not always possible to find a pharmacy in the towns we visited so take a basic supply of your medical essentials.

I use packing cubes religiously and they helped me once again for this trip.  I also saved a bit of room in my suitcase to be able to buy some goodies like wine and food from the Margaret River and Swan Valley.

**I also had movies downloaded on my phone and used Spotify for music along the way.

albany coast

Summary 

What an incredible and interesting experience!  It has re-affirmed more than ever that there is no “right” way to travel. We all have our own individual preferences and that’s ok.  Whilst I may not be someone who would prefer to take a bus tour, I have learned so much over the past two weeks about those who do.

For 12 days, I’ve sat on a bus for long periods of time, driving LONG distances with 40 other people (see, I’m well outside of my travel comfort zone!). Some days, we drove distances that some people would never drive on an entire holiday. I had absolutely no control over any of my travel decisions.  This is not something I like but everyone else on board were perfectly happy to have their holiday organised down to the finest detail.  This is what they are paying for.  They don’t want to have to think about their holiday.

We’ve seen locations that some people will never see, partly because they are in some of the most far-flung locations in this country. There’s got to be a prize in that alone.

The majority of people on the tour are avid, frequent travellers, some with 4-5 trips already this year under their belt. They choose this way of travel for many reasons: organisation, safety, comfort, routine, price and value and Scenic do this so very well.

However, there are also so many intangible things that I witnessed. They love the engagement with people. Many of them have toured with some of the guests before, forming lifelong friendships.

Most have done plenty of travel, but at this stage of their lives, they don’t want the stress of independent travel. They want to be taken care of. They especially don’t want to drive. Some have medical conditions that under any other circumstances would make travel more difficult. Here, they participate in everything they possibly can and continue to make the most of their lives.

As a fellow guest, I was included and involved in their conversations and talks of previous adventures. They drew me in as though I was an old friend. Every day I learned something from them all and it was a constant reminder of how travel is such a personal decision.

It really only comes down to one thing. If you love to travel, travel how you love. 

 

Beer and Croissants was a guest of Scenic Luxury Tours and Cruises.  As always, all editorial, opinions, content and images are my own unless otherwise noted.

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