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Dear Educational Traveller,

20 January 2017


Our 2016 Santiago in Style group
The team at Golden Compass Tours - Travelworks trust that you had a most enjoyable Festive Season and we wish you a very Happy New Year. We hope you are looking forward to some exciting travel experiences in 2017.

We have already guaranteed our scenically stunning and acclaimed Japan Cherry Blossom tour with Robyn Laing and are excited about our first guaranteed program to Persia & Iran: Past & Present to be led by Peter Burns in April. Dr Jone Gaillard is keenly looking forward to leading our popular and again guaranteed Anglo-French Discovery in May and this will be followed by a special tour to include the highlight of the British gardening year, the world famous Chelsea Flower Show. We should warn you that space is now very limited on our stunning Icelandic Discovery in June, the ideal time to explore this island of 'fire and ice', as well as on our Greenland and Faroe Islands Extensions - so, if you want to follow Louise Shave to this most extraordinary part of the world this year, please contact us without delay.

Prayer wheel in Paro, Bhutan
We are now pleased to announce that, in addition to the above, we are able to guarantee two tours which could make 2017 truly memorable for you. Bhutan, where the philosophy of 'Gross National Happiness' holds sway, has always held a particular attraction for those seeking spiritual enlightenment. This tiny mysterious kingdom, wedged amongst the towering snow-capped Himalayas, boasts awe-inspiring scenery and is coloured with festivals. Here you will no doubt have some of the most surprising, enjoyable, breathtaking and thought-provoking experiences of your life. Our Festive Bhutan: 'Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon' tour departs in early March and also ventures into the eastern part of the country, which many tours do not cover. It will be a small group, accompanied by Alison Dale, our New Zealand Manager, and so will have more opportunities to explore less visited sights and enjoy adventures perhaps denied to larger groups.

We are also delighted to confirm that we have now guaranteed our Santiago in Style tour, together with its extensions: the Balearic Islands and Portuguese Extension.  The Pilgrimage Road to Santiago de Compostela has held a magical spell for many over the centuries. For some this is a deeply moving spiritual experience, for many it provides an opportunity to explore the tranquil, yet spectacular, mountain and coastal scenery of Northern Spain and Portugal. For others it gives the chance to journey with a small group of like-minded travellers and soak up the local culture, staying in some of the region's most comfortable hotels and enjoying the region's renowned food and wine. 

A typical mountain village in Mallorca
Hugh Morgan leads our Santiago in Style tour in early May and has written the article below which I am sure you will enjoy. Why not join Hugh this year on his stylish and leisurely journey along the Camino, with short walks along the most picturesque and interesting sections of the route? You may also consider adding a short pre-tour extension with Hugh to explore the fascinating Mediterranean islands of Menorca and Mallorca, both boasting a rich history, stunning scenery, charmingly typical towns and villages as well as local specialities to enjoy. You could also extend your stay in Portugal with Hugh, exploring the university city of Coimbra with its stunning library, and then experiencing the sights in and around the vibrant Portuguese capital, Lisbon. We tour the city, including the mediaeval Alfama district, discover quintessential walled-towns, ancient monasteries and quaint fishing villages, experience the pilgrimage site of Fatima and visit the great summer palaces of Sintra and Queluz.

As we guaranteed both Festive Bhutan: 'The kingdom of the Thunder Dragon' and Santiago in Style after our usual Early Bird Special Discount date, we are extending this discount of $200 per person for Bhutan and $300 per person for Santiago in Style to any registrations received on or before 31 January 2017. We hope that this will help entice you to join one of these incredible tours. We would also like to remind you that we have reduced the rate of our guaranteed Anglo French Discovery tour by $200 person due to the current weakness of the British pound.

Travel with me to Santiago in Style - by Hugh Morgan
Santiago de Compostela Cathedral
Santiago de Compostela has always held some sort of fascination for me. Unswaying devotion has drawn a constant stream of pilgrims from all corners of Europe to this hallowed site for well over a thousand years.  Pilgrims walked for months on end to reach Santiago, the resting place of St James. You may be considering your own pilgrimage or you may just be curious to learn about the attraction of this stunning, mountainous region of Northern Spain and Portugal.     

Whatever your reasons, do come and join me on my journey across the gorgeously green countryside of northern Spain from Bilbao to Santiago then on to Oporto in northern Portugal. While the thought of our walking the entire Camino de Santiago is out of the question, we have selected three very manageable shortish walks, never more than six or seven kilometres per walk. Each is different and offers something special: one is a walk through the scenic open countryside in La Rioja, another through a forest in Galicia and finally another to bring us to the dramatic Atlantic coast of Galicia.  Mind you, should you prefer to follow the course of the Pilgrim Route in the comfort of our coach rather than walking, you’ll have more time to explore our rendezvous point at the end of each of these pilgrim walks.
Casa Batlló, Barcelona
We will meet in Barcelona.  It’s easy to reach and a great place to relax for few days before the tour starts. Our hotel there is within easy walking distance of the Barri Gothic, the most historic district in the heart of this outstanding city.  Wonderful examples of Gaudí’s work, such as the Sagrada Família, are close at hand.  There are tons of things to see and do there.

Golden Compass will organise our flight to Bilbao, where we will visit the Guggenheim Museum, one of those modern wonders of the world.  Our journey takes us to Navarre and to the La Rioja region, renowned for its fine wine, where we will visit Pamplona and Santo Domingo de la Calzada.  Both of these towns lie on the mediaeval pilgrim route, where we will have our first opportunity to walk along the Camino Francés.

Our journey then follows the coastal pilgrim route, the Camino del Norte, which introduces us to the spectacular Picos de Europa mountain range that runs from the Basque Country westwards through Cantabria, Asturias and finally into Galicia.  In so doing, we will visit fascinating mountain towns as well as picturesque fishing villages.  We learn about everyday life in these places as well as discovering their rich history, including tales from the Dark Ages about battles when the Moors were repelled.
Part of the Pilgrimage Route
Important towns such as León and Astorga are amongst those that we visit when we return to the Camino Francés.  The Ruta de la Plata can also be ticked off our list, as it converges with the Camino Francés on our approach to Astorga.  Before arriving at Santiago de Compostela, we will visit a number of charming towns such as Lugo, whose Roman walls still remain completely intact, more or less just as they were when this part of the world was known as the Roman province of Tarraconensis. 

Our arrival at Santiago de Compostela will be a special highlight for all of us, no matter what our individual motives may be for making such a pilgrimage.  The focal point for all pilgrims is the tomb of St James and the magnificent cathedral itself.  Before leaving Spain for Portugal, we will take a short walk along the Camino de Finisterre pilgrim route to the Atlantic coast, to the End of the World, as the Romans thought it to be!

Duoro River, Porto
Northern Portugal is known for its verdant countryside, stunning scenery and picturesque towns and villages. We will head for Braga, to visit a glorious sanctuary, Bom Jesus do Monte, in park-like grounds, encircled by woods and with panoramic views into the surrounding country from its elevated location. We continue on to Porto, Portugal’s second most important city with Celtic roots and with Roman and Moorish history. Modern-day Porto, which overlooks the Douro River at its Atlantic mouth, is best known for the production of port wine.  By the early 18th century, the English had acquired a taste for port wine.  For a number of centuries, English families established vineyards along the banks of the Douro River to cultivate grapes for the production of wine for export to the British Isles.  We will take the opportunity to view this vineyard landscape from the river itself, before sampling various local ports and wines.
Hugh Morgan
This journey is a great adventure, whether it be a pilgrimage or otherwise. We will stay in well-selected and comfortable accommodation throughout, many of the hotels being Paradores, buildings such as monasteries of national importance that have been converted into hotels of standing. With a skilfully-planned itinerary, comfortable coach and expert local guides, this will be a trip to remember.  

For 2017, we have also added the opportunity to explore the Balearic Islands of Menorca and Mallorca prior to our tour and the Portuguese countryside and capital, Lisbon following it. Many think of the Balearic Islands as tourist resorts for Europeans but they are really much more. We avoid the beaches to explore the rich historic sites, charming towns and villages of the mountainous interiors and enjoy some of the tasty local specialities. In Portugal, we visit the splendid university library of Coimbra and many of the extraordinary highlights in and around historic and architecturally pleasing Lisbon, adding just that little extra to our journey. 

Do come and join me on this tour of discovery.

Hugh Morgan
Golden Compass Program Leader
Dear Educational Traveller,
28 January 2017
Iman Mosque, Isfahan

We are delighted that our Persia & Iran - Past & Present is proving to be so popular and space is limited, so do register quickly to avoid disappointment. This is an exciting destination with a number of World Heritage sites and a people keen to make contact with the outside world. The country boasts a rich and varied culture and is today at the heart of power in the Middle East. This is an great time to visit Iran. Our tour, departing 14 April, is already guaranteed and will be led by popular and experienced Program Leader, Peter Burns

Peter will also be leading our regular but equally as enthralling Journey to the 'Stans' in Central Asia, which I am pleased to announce is now also guaranteed. This program departs in August and features the awe-inspiring cities of the ancient Silk Route, such as Bishkek, Khiva, Mary, Bukhara, Samarkand and Tashkent, whilst exploring the idiosyncratic but fascinating countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. As an added bonus, Kazakhstan is this year hosting the World Fair in its splendid new capital of Astana and we are offering our participants a short extension package to visit this once-in-a lifetime experience.     


Song Kul Lake, Kyrgyzstan
(As a short aside, we would like to point out that for us at Golden Compass Tours, once a tour is a guaranteed departure, it will definitely operate. Some other operators may have pre-guaranteed tours or even guaranteed tours which may later cancel. However, we really appreciate the disappointment and inconvenience which this may cause and instead, will let you know when a tour is close to being guaranteed in order to encourage you to book.)

Many of you will have already met Peter at our Travel Forums or travelled with him, as he has led a number of our tours to the Scottish Islands, Eastern Europe and to the 'Stans', as well as tours to India and the Caucasus. However, we thought it may be interesting for Peter to tell you a little about his life in "retirement" in Apollo Bay as a Community Ambulance Officer and his experiences looking after groups of US educational travellers to Australia, as well as leading our  educational small group tours designed for like-minded Australians and New Zealanders to many exotic destinations around the world. I hope you will enjoy the short article he has written below.   
 On the Road to Persia and the ‘Stans' - by Peter Burns
Peter Burns
To all of our Golden Compass family across New Zealand and Australia, I send you my best greetings for a great start to the New Year.

The summer season is in full swing down here on the Victorian Coast.  Our small town of Apollo Bay swells from a base population of around 1,500 to over 12,000 during the summer school holidays.  

Summers were always hectic when I worked for Parks Victoria, but since I left the Public Service three years ago, I seem to be almost as busy. While not working full time, I have been able to do more tours with both Golden Compass and a large USA based travel organisation. For the latter, I am the site coordinator for the numerous groups that travel through Melbourne from November through to April.  

UNESCO World Heritage Site of ancient Nisa
Coupled with this work, I continue to work for Ambulance Victoria as a Community Ambulance Officer, which I have now been doing for 26 years.  Up until 6 years ago, the ambulance service in Apollo Bay was run by trained volunteers, with the assistance of a paramedic over the summer holidays.  However, our case load has increased so much that we now have a permanent 24/7 paramedic, who is always on call with one of our Community Ambulance Officers.  

I am looking forward very much to leading the Golden Compass tour to Iran in April - Persia & Iran: Past & Present (15 nights). In August, I will also be leading my third trip to the ‘Stans' on Journey to the ‘Stans in Central Asia (26 nights).

This will be my first trip to Iran although I have been nearby several times, having travelled overland from Turkey, through the Caucasian countries of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan and finished on the Caspian Sea just to the north of Iran. The ‘Stans' journey travels from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, through Uzbekistan and into Turkmenistan.  Near Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, we visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of ancient Nisa.  This is the seat of the Parthian (‘old Persian”) kings, who reigned in this area around 250BC.  The hills behind the site are the modern border with Iran.
Samarkand, Uzbekistan
I have found that the people of Central Asia are the friendliest and most welcoming of all people that I have ever met. Family is a core value to Islam. I have never felt so welcomed in family homes, bazaars, and at the numerous cultural and historic sites that we visit.  The locals do not see many Australians or the very exotic New Zealanders in outer Kazakhstan or in the remote hills of Kyrgyzstan. Most  people know that all important thing about Australia, the kangaroo. New Zealand is harder to understand. Rugby is not a well known sport here. 

A school group in the Uzbekistan capital Tashkent is more intent on meeting our Golden Compass group of Australians and New Zealanders than learning about Amir Timur, the 14th century Turco-Mongol conqueror and the founder of the Timurid Empire in Central Asia and Persia. Their teacher was more than happy for the group to try out their English with us. At home we seem to be invisible to the youth: in Central Asia, we are minor celebrities.

A local school group in Tashkent Pegman Local Butcher










 A simple act of buying some pegs in the Bishkek market in Kyrgyzstan forges a new friendship with the most obliging and helpful hardware man, or the “Pegman’, as we referred to him for many days later. And in the meat market, I learn all about the various cuts of Yak meat from another most friendly local butcher.

At the World Heritage Site at Old Merv, I met these gentlemen, who were quite amazed that we had come all the way from Australia to visit Turkmenistan. While some of the ladies in our group met up with these immaculately dressed local Turkic women who had come on a spiritual pilgrimage to Old Merv.















The ‘Stans’ tour is visually spectacular, as I know that Iran will be too. I also know that you will come away with a great connectedness to the many and various people you will meet along the way, as you will be treated as an honoured guest. So come and find out what it is like in modern day Iran, as well as seeing some of the world’s finest architecture and cultural monuments and travelling through some of the world’s oldest settlements.

Peter Burns
And if you would like another unforgettable adventure, come and join me in the ‘Stans’ in August where we will travel through Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan on another fascinating journey.

I can promise you that not only will the tours be educational and inspiring, but you will have some serious fun.

Best wishes to you all for a most fulfilling 2017.

Peter Burns
Golden Compass Program Leader
Apollo Bay Victoria 
Travel with me Scotland - by Ngaire Douglas
Scotland, “it is one of the most hauntingly beautiful places in the world, the history is fascinating, the men are handsome and the whisky is delicious”, says J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series. How wise she is. I invite you to join me in July on a meandering, island hopping adventure around this lovely country, starting in the south west in Glasgow where, it is said by writer Jack House, “square-toed shoes were invented to enable the Glasgow man to get closer to the bar”, heading to the Shetlands, in the far northern reaches, and concluding in the east in Edinburgh, “a city of shifting light, of changing skies, of sudden vistas. A city so beautiful it breaks the heart again and again”, according to Alexander McCall Smith, author of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series.

We’ll visit castles and abbeys, both haunted and hauntingly beautiful. We’ll try to untangle some of the complexities of the origins of the country we know as Scotland today, as well as the complexities of the DNA of Scottish people. It might explain why the men are so handsome! After all, those early Romans and Vikings must have left something else behind other than Hadrian’s Wall and buried longboats. And we’ll most certainly be sipping some of the delicious whisky and following the process of how it is made. The heather will be rippling across the hillsides and the Scottish summer will be so very pleasant after the blistering heat we have had in our Australian summer.

My name is Ngaire (pronounced Nyree) and I am a New Zealander who has lived in Australia for many years, which is why I have put my name here phonetically. If I could have a cent for every mispronunciation I would be a wealthy woman indeed. I am a retired historian who happily admits that sharing travel experiences and helping people understand the stories behind the places we visit is way more satisfying than teaching students.  For the past ten years I have, among many other things, been taking groups of older Americans on tours around Australia and New Zealand, explaining to them the many differences geographically and culturally between these two countries at the bottom of the world. They arrive down under with the preconception that both places are the same.  Apart from the obvious differences in geology, I send them home with a profound understanding of all the grounds for potential war across the ditch…who invented the pavlova, who has the best rugby/cricket/netball teams,  what to do with possums, should you wear jandals or thongs. And I always feel a little sorry for Australians who say they have never been to New Zealand because it is just like home – and vice versa. Our countries and histories are so very different.
Ring Of Brodgar, Orkney
I have explained this because it is a widely held belief that Scotland and England are also very similar.  This is a mistaken belief indeed. They are certainly not Siamese twins joined at the hip!  The rolling green valleys of northern England merge into the browns and purples of the more barren Scottish landscape, where great long lochs slash across the rugged countryside in contrast to the more tamed and tidy English lakes. There might be benign fairies at the bottom of the English garden but there are brownies and kelpies and sea serpents scattered around the Scottish landscape all waiting to lead us down unexplored garden paths. Scotland is so much more than its well known cities. The islands to the west and north have more diverse and, in some cases, longer histories than the mainland. Most of this tour has us immersed in open, sparsely populated, ever changing  island landscapes, going over the sea to Skye, exploring 3000 year old Neolithic ruins, smiling at the antics of the comical puffin, and grieving for the many thousands of starving families displaced  and evicted in the 19th century potato famine. Their anguished cries I have heard wafting on the wind which licks around abandoned crofts, having the hair on the back of our necks rise as we stand on battlefields amid the ghosts of the many tribes and clans who fought outside invaders, or each other, since recorded time and probably before.
Puffins in Scotland
The first of many wars for Scottish independence started in 1296. It is mooted that in 2018 Scotland will have another referendum on independence (not quite a war perhaps) following the surprise results of the Brexit vote in 2016. Some issues just never seem to get sorted out satisfactorily. Our Scottish island hopping experience might well be the last in the land as we know it!  2017 is certainly proving to be an interesting year in many ways. "We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation" wrote Voltaire, renowned French philosopher of the 18th century. "God help England if she has not Scots to think for her" said 19th century playwright George Bernard Shaw. "Of all the small nations of this earth, perhaps only the ancient Greeks surpass the Scots in their contribution to mankind" remarked Winston Churchill, 20th century British Prime Minister.  Perhaps some of these words of wisdom should be brought to the attention of Scotland’s southern neighbour while there is still time to reflect on the implications of a UK without Scotland. 
This is a small group tour and we have our own mini-bus and very knowledgeable local driver for the whole trip, which makes for very comfortable and cohesive travelling. No need to ask “can I leave this on the bus” because often on a tour the day can start with one bus and end with another as companies timetable their coaches to meet commitments all round.  The ferries between our far flung islands carry vehicles as well. Our accommodation will be in small, often family run businesses where you get to talk to locals who live on these islands and who can explain island life in their own uniquely lilting dialect. Mind you, the voices of people like Robert Carlisle, Sean Connery and Ewan MacGregor could tell me anything with that brogue and I would happily go along with it.  So come with me to Scotland’s lesser known areas, to follow the footprints of the Picts and the Gaels, the Saxons and the Britons, the Romans and, perhaps most interestingly, the Vikings. I leave the last word here to lovely singer Nora Jones “come away with me on a bus…” Croon them softly to embed with adventure in your heart.
I do hope my outline of the tour will have encouraged you to take a look at the detailed itinerary which is available on our website. I am very much looking forward to leading this gentle exploration of the Scottish island and hope you may be able to join me.
With all best wishes,
Ngaire Douglas

Golden Compass Program Leader 

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2017 Guaranteed Departures

2017 Guaranteed Departures

We are very pleased to be able to guarantee the following tours for 2017.

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Meet Our Program Leaders

Meet Our Program Leaders

Our Program Leaders are based in New Zealand and Australia, so have an understanding of the needs of our New Zealand and Australian participants. They are all well-travelled with a…

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Gold Rewards Program

Gold Rewards Program

Our Gold Rewards Membership Program allows you to experience the Uk, Europe, Asia and beyond as a local with "Live Like a Local" experiences in addition to many more benefits.

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Refer a Friend Rewards

Refer a Friend Rewards

Receive a $200 discount off any Golden Compass tour when your friends or family book with us! Your friends will also save $100 off their own booking and there is…

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Discover Spain with Jone Gaillard - 14 September - 02 October 2017

Our Discover Spain program explores the historic links, cultures and religions of these two civilisations, as well as the great geographical and cultural diversity of Spain with its ancient and fascinating cities such as Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Granada and Seville, as well as its regions away from the traditional tourist beaches. 



Inclusive of field trips, local guides, gratuities and all meals.