I was greeted at the airport with my name on a sign, escorted to a car with dark-tinted windows and driven to an inner city hotel, right by Sydney’s Circular Quay.
It started how it went on: special treatment every step of the way, with everything taken care of. Once settled in to a large room with harbour views, I met up with others on the tour and we walked to nearby Café Sydney, upstairs across from the lit-up bridge.
Between mouthfuls of excellent food I had easy conversation with several women who were travelling solo as they’re widowed or had husbands who didn’t want to travel. There were also couples who had joined up because they like to be looked after well and appreciate not having to bother with details.
This is what Bill Peach Journeys is particularly good at. The Australian company is known for its private aircraft tours in Australia and New Zealand but they’ve expanded into Short Break Sojourns, like the one I was on.
These are based around a special event, usually a concert or an event, and the itinerary is woven around that with high-end accommodation, meals and all the fine points travel entails. A short break might be for the Melbourne Cup, Australian Wildflowers or the Australian Open Tennis. I was in town for the opera.
Every year, Sydney hosts an outdoor Handa opera production: this year was Aida. After a busy day we loaded on to a small bus and headed for the opera site on the harbour edge of the Royal Botanic Gardens. We shared an evening meal while watching the city light up and a cruise ship depart, before being escorted to good central seats for the main act.
On a floating stage with the Sydney Opera House and the city’s high rises in the background, the drama unfolded with lashings of fabulous music and gorgeous costumes – gold pleated wings, swathes of velvet, bold Ethiopian-inspired prints and contemporary sparkle – on an incredible set. High-energy dancers competed with fireworks, spectacularly dramatic lighting and a real camel train – but the singers, especially the main characters, presented the most impressive moments. They were top performers, as you’d expect.
Of course next year’s opera will be different (Puccini’s Turandot), but the standard is high and it will be, without question, as stunning and as much fun as this production.
Once the clapping had died down, we made our way out of the arena to our waiting coach and passed queues of people waiting for taxis or trekking back to far-flung cars.
The next morning the group travelled north of Sydney to Hawkesbury River to cruise around its fascinating waterways.
At the farewell dinner in the hotel, I exchanged contacts with several of my fellow travellers. They were an interesting and interested crew; seasoned, motivated travellers who enjoy the finer things in life.
I was jealous, hearing their plans to join other Short Break Sojourns but grateful, too, to have had a taste of the good life.
Reported by Kathryn Webster for our AA Directions Autumn 2017 issue