YOUR VACATION IN LIGHTS

Communing With Camels and Koalas

Dipak, left, and Anand Oza of North Potomac rode Willy the camel in desert at Uluru in Australia during their vacation. The Oza family of four said the camel rides reminded them of pony rides from the kids' younger days. They spent two weeks traveling in Australia and a week on New Zealand's North Island.
Dipak, left, and Anand Oza of North Potomac rode Willy the camel in desert at Uluru in Australia during their vacation. The Oza family of four said the camel rides reminded them of pony rides from the kids' younger days. They spent two weeks traveling in Australia and a week on New Zealand's North Island. (From Dipak Oza)
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Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Oza family of North Potomac is the latest contributor to our Your Vacation in Lights feature, in which we invite Travel section readers to dish about their recent trips. It's a big, confusing travel world out there, and you can help your fellow travelers navigate it. Your hot tip could be the next guy's daymaker; your rip-off restaurant, the next family's near miss. To file your own trip report -- and become eligible to win a digital camera -- see the fine print below.

THE TRIP: Two weeks in Australia (Sydney, Canberra, Ayers Rock/Uluru and Cairns), followed by one week on New Zealand's North Island (Auckland, glowworm caves and geothermal activity near Rotorua, Wellington).

WHO: Anand, a high school student; Rachana, who was recently sworn in as a lawyer in Maryland; and parents Abha and Dipak.

WHY: None of us had ever been to the Southern Hemisphere. We wanted to know how it feels to hang upside down.

WHEN: August, which is late winter in the Southern Hemisphere. We had to pack for everything from 95 degree weather in the Uluru Desert to freezing winter temperatures in Wellington, New Zealand.

COST: It cost about $20,000 for the four of us, about half of which was airfare alone. Since the time we planned the trip, the dollar fell more than 10 percent against the Australian and New Zealand dollars, making our trip more expensive than expected.

PLANNING: We had been thinking about this trip for more than five years but started planning about eight months before the trip, using travel books and the Internet. We stored our reservations information and Google maps on our BlackBerry for easy access.

GETTING THERE WAS: Loooooooooooooooooooong. After the five-hour flight from Washington Dulles to Los Angeles, it was a 14-hour nonstop flight to Sydney.

IT MADE IT ALL WORTH IT WHEN . . . we learned how to snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef.

ONE THING WE'D DO DIFFERENTLY: We'd learn how to snorkel before visiting the Great Barrier Reef.

COOLEST ATTRACTIONS: Rangitoto Island near Auckland, which did not exist 600 years ago and was formed from a volcanic eruption; the Koala Park in Sydney, where the kids petted koalas and fed wallabies; and the glowworm caves near Rotorua. The cave ceilings were dotted with spots of light that made it look like the night sky. It was breathtaking.

I GRITTED MY TEETH HARDEST WHEN. . . the customs officer at the Auckland airport found two oranges that were accidentally left in our backpack. We ended up paying a fine of almost $150. In New Zealand, they take their agriculture seriously.


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