6 August 2002

G'day possums, and welcome to Nova Scotia

By Becky Barrow

One would have thought that the penny might have dropped for Emma Nunn and her
boyfriend Raoul Sebastian - on their way to a three-week holiday in Australia - when they landed at Halifax, Nova Scotia, and were transferred to a 25-seat propeller plane.

But 19-year-old Miss Nunn was only slightly worried. "I'm not the best flyer in the world and I said I really couldn't see a small plane like that going all the way to Sydney," she said.

"On the plane, they handed out immigration forms asking how long we planned to stay in Canada. I told the stewardess it would surely only be a couple of hours, and she said, 'Fine, put two hours'."

Nor were the couple, from Sidcup, Kent, unduly suspicious that their scheduled flight time from Britain was just nine hours 30 minutes instead of the more usual 22 hours.

So it was not until they landed at Sydney on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia - a town with a population of 26,000 and described by one visitor as "a pit" - that they finally realised that their Australian dollars were unlikely to be accepted at the local bar.

While their friends waited to pick them up at Australia's Sydney airport, the couple - who had booked their Air Canada tickets on the internet for £740 each - had landed on the opposite side of the world.

They were met at the airport by Andrea Batten, a customer service agent for the regional carrier Air Canada Jazz.

"I was told, 'Can somebody go to the front desk, there is a couple who think they should be in Sydney, Australia,' " she said yesterday.

While baggage occasionally ended up at the wrong Sydney, it was the first time that passengers had found themselves in the wrong hemisphere, she added.

Sydney, the main town on the island of Cape Breton, not only lacks an opera house and Bondi Beach but one person who lives in Halifax said it was "probably one of the last places in Canada that you would go to for any reason whatsoever".

Its small population was left with high unemployment - and one of the worst industrial waste sites in Canada - after the two local industries, steel and coal, closed down recently.

But the rest of the island is sufficiently beautiful to have inspired Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor who died on Cape Breton in 1922, to say: "I have travelled the globe. I have seen the Rockies, the Andes and the Alps and the Highlands of Scotland, but for simple beauty, Cape Breton outrivals them all."

Miss Nunn and Mr Sebastian, who plan to stay in Sydney until Friday after rearranging their flights home, have quickly become the most famous tourists on the island since their arrival on Thursday night.

The Cape Breton Post has been running details of their plight as its top story. And the Daily News, after hearing that "the unlucky British couple" were spending most of their time sitting in their hotel room, has set up a hotline. "Do you think the province's tourism department should seize this opportunity - take them out and show them a warm Cape Breton welcome?" asked the paper.

Miss Nunn and Mr Sebastian, who were yesterday visiting a local attraction, the Fortress of Louisbourg, should take comfort that Sydney, Nova Scotia, is not the only airport to confuse travellers.

Other people have been disappointed to land in Birmingham, Alabama, rather than in the Midlands; Dhaka, Bangladesh, instead of Dakar in Senegal; and Santiago in Spain, a long way from Santiago, Chile.

Back home, the Association of British Travel Agents said the story was a superb
advertisement for using travel agents. A spokesman said: "That is probably one of the drawbacks of the internet - there is not a brain in the middle."