For rugby union fans, it’s regarded as one of the sport’s ultimate supporter experiences, one they dream of taking part in at least once in their lifetime.
Next year, when The British & Irish Lions make their first pilgrimage to Australia for 12 years, it is anticipated that more than 45,000 fans will follow them, including a substantial number from Scotland.
All country divisions of loyalty can be put aside for once though, as The British & Irish Lions include the very best players from England, Ireland, Wales and, of course, Scotland.
Scotland’s legacy with the Lions is as passionate and deep as they come. The granite-hard Finlay Calder led the Lions to their 2-1 series win over the Wallabies in 1989, while Sir Ian McGeechan’s association with the famous red shirt is as remarkable as anybody’s in Lions’ history.
In 2013, will bright young thing Stuart Hogg eye the full-back position or will David Denton continue his meteoric rise in the back row? Scottish rugby fans wait with bated breath.
One thing’s for sure, players and fans will all be united in a common purpose – to beat the Aussies.
Under head coach Warren Gatland, the Lions will also play in Hong Kong on the 2013 trip, which coincides with the 125th anniversary of the concept of the Lions as a touring side.
But the highlights will be the three Test matches against the Wallabies – in Brisbane on 22 June, Melbourne on 29 June and Sydney on 6 July.
Together the matches represent a great lure to finally take that holiday of a lifetime Down Under, and the three fantastic cities make a useful skeleton itinerary, too, whether you want to stay and experience all their urban delights, or use them as a base to visit some of Australia’s wealth of iconic sights.
Brisbane, capital of the sub-tropical state of Queensland, is the first port of call. If you love the great outdoors, you’ll adore the place.
This vibrant city is the gateway to the beaches of the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast as well as hideaways in the mountains. If you’ve time, follow the road north to Cairns, where the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef awaits.
The third most populous city in Australia, Brisbane sits on the Brisbane River, around 23km from its mouth in Moreton Bay. City lovers should join a Brisbane Greeters tour and be welcomed by local hosts who’ll give you free, first-hand info on all the city’s arts and culture, wining and dining scene, heritage and architecture, plus sites and attractions.
Must-dos include the cultural precinct – see a show at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC), an exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) or Queensland Art Gallery (QAG).
Then, you have to cuddle a koala at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary – join a river cruise down Brisbane River from the city centre to the largest koala sanctuary in the world.
The XXXX Ale House & Brewery offers, of course, a beer and barbecue. Southbank parklands and city beach, on the southern bank of Brisbane River opposite the city, has a mixture of rainforest, creeks, grassed areas and plazas and the riverfront promenade, including a man-made beach. Browse the local markets on Friday evenings and weekends, and don’t miss the Wheel of Brisbane.
Finally, Story Bridge Climb is one of those must-dos – climb 80 metres above Brisbane River to the summit of the iconic bridge with views out to Moreton Bay and the Scenic Rim. After dark, head for the small bars and restaurants in Fortitude Valley and West End. Brisbane is home to a number of these Urban Villages, each with nightspots and live music, where you can celebrate the Lions’ first Test win, with a bit of luck.
For more information visit www.lions tour.com/brisbane
Melbourne, Victoria, recently crowned the country’s most popular interstate destination by Australian tourists, is renowned for its fantastic restaurants, top-class hotels, flourishing fashion and arts scene – and Neighbours, of course.
For those who have followed the antics of Scott and Charlene and, these days, Andrew and Summer, a tour of the Ramsay Street set of this daytime soap is a must, though sports fans are more likely to enjoy a tour of the Melbourne Cricket Ground and the National Sports Museum.
To see Australia’s second largest city in a different way, how about hopping on a Harley Davidson, climbing into hot air balloon, or heading for Eureka Skydeck, one of the Southern Hemisphere’s highest viewing platforms? Adrenaline junkies can try The Edge, a glass cube 300 metres up and projecting three metres out from the building – with you in it.
Culture vultures will enjoy Make Stuff Good – a new tour of central Melbourne with an artist, musician, writer or designer as your guide. Of course, there’s no shortage of great places to shop, dine, drink and dance the night away in Melbourne either.
And on the doorstep, there are hotspots such as the Great Ocean Road – see it by helicopter for a different view – and Yarra Valley where you’ll find fine food and wineries.
Wildlife lovers can see fabulous Aussie animals at the Healesville Sanctuary or witness the unforgettable Penguin Parade at Phillip Island.
Finally, there’s Sydney, perhaps Australia’s best-loved and most famous, city, with attractions aplenty. Get your bearings on the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb or the newer Skywalk – at the top of the Sydney Tower,
Indoors, a tour of Sydney Opera House is fascinating – but do book tickets for a performance if you can, too.
Even in the heart of the city, the natural world is never far away. Kayaking in the harbour is unforgettable, or if you prefer not to get wet, there’s the Sea Life Sydney Aquarium which has a new Shark Walk, Tropical Bay of Rays habitat, Touch Pool, Shipwreck area and ocean walk-through.
Wildlife lovers will adore Taronga Zoo’s Roar & Snore – after the gates shut, dine in style, take a nocturnal safari then fall asleep in a safari tent to the call of the wild. See more cute and cuddly Aussie animals at Darling Harbour’s Wild Life Sydney. It has a new Bugs Garden and now offers Koala Breakfasts, a great start to a day in a bush garden surrounded by the popular marsupial.
Meanwhile, famous creatures of the human kind can be seen at Madame Tussauds Sydney in Darling Harbour.
Sydney Harbour is surrounded by national parks and the coastline hugs Sydney’s peninsulas offering spectacular walks, boating and surfing opportunities, and don’t miss the stunning Blue Mountains.
Head for Bondi Beach to sun yourself and chill out – or book a surfing lesson and take to the waves.
Back in the city, there are endless dining options to suit every budget. Visit The Star, the former Star City entertainment complex which has been re-launched. It offers restaurants galore plus shopping and entertainment including a new nightclub, Marquee.
Sydney’s thriving small-bar scene means you can dine somewhere different every night. Find your favourite in which to toast the Lions and – here’s hoping – a 3-0 win Down Under.
www.lionstour.com/sydney or for details of countrywide attractions visit Australia.com
THE FACTS Official ticket, travel and accommodation packages are available from Lions Rugby Travel starting from £2,199 and the three Test Tours start from £5,999, tel: 0844 788 4070 or visit www.lionstour.com