Mike Keighley has been running Australian Adventure tours for guests for over 15 years. He spent many years exploring Australia before developing this into a viable business. Mike doesn’t care for the word “tours”, because for him, it conjures up visions of people sitting on a big bus with nametags on their lapels. His trips are far removed from that sort of standardized travel. Mike prefers to call his trips “experiences”, or “journeys”. He gets a fair bit of repeat business as well as word-of-mouth; he has a website; he’s listed in Frommers and Fodor’s guides; Conde Nast Traveler has run several articles about the experiences he offers; he’s been featured in documentaries; and has established relationships with a smattering of agents who “get” what he’s doing, so he’s easy enough for the right guest to find. The result is that he’s normally booked out six to twelve months in advance, especially during peak season, June through September in Northern Australia and the rest of the time with charters ex Sydney and beyond.
We recently had a chat to him, and here is a sampling of the results:
Q. What are your goals when you take people on a ‘journey’?
A. Someone once said that the beaten path is traveled by the beaten traveler and so I try to get people off the beaten track and into places where they can enjoy space… just nature at it’s best - with a smattering of fine wine, food and accommodation.
Q. Sounds a bit “spiritual”?
A. Well, I hope so ----it seems that as much as we might fight it man is a spiritual being as well as physical – and whilst our physical side screams for attention for food, drink, nice things etc – we tend to neglect satisfying our spiritual side – and getting out bush away from city lights, noise pollution, and even people – seems to help us clear our heads from a lot of physical stuff and helps refocus.
Q. What’s a typical itinerary – or is there one?
A. This is where it gets crazy – I can’t say I have a ‘typical’ itinerary – every trip I do is different and is totally based on good communication with my clients or their agents. I like to know what they are interested in, what their expectations are before I sit down to draft up an itinerary – I can show you dozens of itineraries that we have done over the years and they are all so diverse.
Q. In what ways?
A. Well some people don’t like camping out, so we try to accommodate them in comfortable lodgings - which can range from 5 star hotels to log cabins. Other people love sleeping under the stars and really getting back to nature (which is my love) and so we have remote locations where we camp, with natural thermal pools and clear waterfalls. I have taken people from 5 star Sydney Hotels into the most remote places in Australia and the contrast is what makes it memorable. I have a personal affinity with wildlife – crocs, snakes, kangaroos, dingos, buffalo and birdlife – all the beautiful critters that we share the planet with – some people enjoy getting up close and personal – others like a bit of ‘space’ between so we cater for that.
Q. Is there any reason why you keep your groups small and what is average size?
A. The larger the group the more chance there is of people missing out on why they are out there – the more people, the more issues, the more noise – and its hard to hear the landscape speak if there are lots of people. I regularly do trips with two people – occasionally just one – biggest group I have taken out was fifty wanting to meditate (which is a bit of a paradox) however the average is around four.
Q. Who are your typical clients?
A. Look that’s a good question – I guess I get a lot of corporate people – celebrities, you know busy people who need to wind down, don’t want to be surrounded by ‘tourists’ yet want to experience something completely different to their own lifestyle. Some are couples; others are families who want to share quality time with their children in the natural world – others want a good overview of Australia. Quite a lot come from the USA and UK and we are getting a growing number of Aussies wanting to get away from the mainstream.
Q. Tell us about the strangest trip you have done?
A. Mmmm… well time doesn’t allow but around a campfire one night I could tell some stories about a Buddhist monk, a pizza being delivered by helicopter and a crazy Conde Naste Photo Shoot. Those are a few that come to mind.
Thanks Mike – I think your chopper is waiting!