When we were planning our lodging for this trip, we had problem getting lodging at reasonably prices for the particular weekend 14-16 March. Was scratching my head what was going on when my dear friend Kat informed me that it was the Grand Prix weekend in Melbourne. Horror horror. With her help, we really ploughed through all possible hotels and apartments with the hope that we do not need to move hotels to hotels. But it all came up futile. That’s when the idea of getting a private tour popped out.
As Australia has a reputation of easily accessible land tour packages at all hotels, our initial plan was to check into an apartment and then go on day tours to the outskirts of Melbourne but due to our difficulty in procuring lodging for that F1 weekend, we toyed with the idea of a 4d 3n package that would include lodging for that weekend. And my BFF google came up with this from Melbourne Australia Tours (MAT). Excited, I started to read more about this tour operator and I’m happy to know the reviews on tripadvisor were pretty positive. So, I emailed them to inquire. What was even more wonderful is, because of our group size, we could start a private tour instead. However, this particular package did not include puffing billy (which is a must-visit in my opinion) so, they offered another 3d2n package which is now available on their website with our picture there lol. The price is really reasonable too. For the private tour of 8 pax, we paid Aud 4400. That’s about 500 plus per person and this include lodging for two nights and 5 meals. It also included premium viewing for the penguin parade and most entrance fees. So upon confirming with Pegasus on the availability of the lodging on that last day of F1, we confirmed the tour.
The booking was a breeze and the fast response was the reason why I decided to confirm with them. Nikki, the sales lady is based in Malaysia and she actually called me on a few occasions to confirm some issues and lodging change. Very very efficient and very on the ball.
The boss Colin is a very interesting person. He would reply to the emails on and off and is a very social
Media savvy person. Nearer to the trip I even got to whatsapp him details of our flight and communicate from there. He was also the one who picked us up from the airport and due to some reasons, he was with us through out the trip.
Now for the trip proper. We were greeted by the ‘tall and good-looking’ (as emphasized by him) Colin at the airport. He is really really tall. Definitely a very chatty person and because his wife is a Malaysian, there were many things to talk about.
Then during the journey to the apartment, we were informed that he would not be the one bringing us on the tour the next day. Instead, he had arranged a Chinese speaking ladyguide cum Driver, Alex. Upon probing, Alex was new to the company and we would be her first ever group on her own. My father, the ‘minister of safety’ totally vetoed the idea. This was where I started to doubt the decision to hire the company. Thankfully, Colin decided to to tag along on the road trip and during the trip he started to refer the reason for his presence as a trainer for Alex.
Well, instead of boring you with the details of everything along the road trip. Let me go straight to whether this tour operator is worth hiring. Let me start with the ‘yes’
1. The price. After going through the websites and quotations of some tour operators, they are one of the lowest priced. And if you add up the individual day tours and compare to what we paid for, I think we have gotten a reasonable deal.
2. The boss. Colin is someone who appreciates openness. Anything you are not comfortable with, tell him and he would go all out to help. One example was our lodging issue. I read up on the motel that we were supposed to stay over on the first night and was shocked to read that bed bugs were spotted by one of the reviewers. Immediately I contacted Nikki and Colin and we managed to change almost immediately with a bit of top up. He is also very flexible with the schedule. And so, we were able to enjoy the road trip at our own time and target although we did miss out on some of the items on itinerary. I also appreciate his emphasis on safety. Throughout the road trip, he kept reminding Alex, to keep to the speed limits and watch out for dangerous turns. I guess he played a part in getting us all back safe and sound.
Now the ‘nos’ or maybe I should term it as ‘points to note’ if you are engaging them.
1. One must throw away the definition of tour packages as our minds are moulded by Singapore tour agencies. We are pampered like crazy in these packages– Well fed and well taken care of. In our private tour with MAT, the definition of breakfast is not those big buffet style offered by Singapore packages. It’s coffee and cake or sandwich. We had our first breakfast with them in Mcdonalds at Lake Colac, although I must say this town is so pretty. Our day two breakfast was better. But it’s takeaway from a cafe in Angelsea. Nonetheless, the sandwich was heavenly. The breakfast on third day was the best, this was thanks to the Chinese guide, Alex who suggested the cafe near Puffing Billy. However, do note that that was not part of the initial plan.
On day one, as we had late lunch and reached our lodging late, we were not taken to any dinner place. To be fair, dinner was not included as part of the tour on this day. But I thought it was a bit of an oversight on the part of the guides. As a result, we had to go to the nearby petrol station and grab convenient foods so that we could cook dinner. This was probably the lowest point of the tour I feel. After all, we were with kids and senior citizens, we couldn’t possibly make them skip dinner. After the first day, we threw out our ideas of proper sit down meals and even had macdonalds takeaways as one of our lunches in the tour bus (yes, my mum and dad had that too) and that’s when the tour became a little more fun. Also helped that our last few meals were much better with Chinese food and a German buffet lunch at a really lovely German restaurant (I will mention this in another entry).
2. If you decide to go with MAT, I think getting to know who is the guide is very important. When I was reading the reviews on tripadvisor, two names popped up –Mathew and Max. Ultimately, communicate with Colin and Nikki, they are very helpful people who will answer your queries, and pretty fast too.
I would say that overall, the private tour was a very memorable one one way or the other. I think something very worth trying is their highly-rated day tours and perhaps next time we can try. Afterall we still haven’t gone to Grampians and Mt Bulla.