Monday, 13 December 2010

Cinque Terre - Coolum Golf - Werribee Zoo - Cuba - Air Pacific


John Crook

Take me along,.. please

No arm twisting required here, as acceptance to travel is immediate.  With breathtaking sea views, quaint villages and a superb scenic Italian coast line, here are the keys to the Cinque Terre.   There is a range of individual tours to explore the five villages.  Price-wise the deal sounds terrific.  Prices start from $606 per person twin share.   How's this as a starter.  A four-day itinerary staying three nights at the four star Villa Balbi.  That comes with daily breakfast, a gastronomic dinner in a local restaurant, a one-day Cinque Terre card which provides entry to the national park, along with a full day train ticket, a boat ticket to Portofino and even a wine tasting at a local vineyard.  For details and bookings telephone 1300 885 173 or go visit

Are you a golf addict?

If the answer is in the affirmative then this should be a goer.  As from January 4 to 31, 2011 the Hyatt  Regency Coolum will offer pairs and couples a special rate of $170 per person twin share including a night's accommodation, continental breakfast, unlimited golf, golf carts and a free weekday golf clinic.  For all the information, and bookings, contact (07) 5446 1234.  Conditions apply and subject to availability.

OK.  One for the kids

Special activities have been organised over the school holiday period.  The location is  Werribee Open Range Zoo.  Special activities include a Christmas performance by the Werribee Concert Band on Sunday December 19.

There is a return of the popular Rhythm of Africa musical season which starts January 8 2011.  Throughout January the 'open-back of house program' is on offer. This literally opens the door to go see the fascinating behind the scenes animal areas.  For all the details go check   Just visiting the website is a thrill and a half, but should you be visiting Melbourne over the next weeks, go the whole hog and spend some real time at Werribee Open Range Zoo.

Ever considered visiting Cuba?

Now is the time to discover the flavours, the sounds, the colours and the experiences,- all wrapped up into one terrific package,- Cuba.  Cox and Kings is offering an 11-day small group escorted tour into fascinating Cuba.   The tour is valid for sale and travel until February 12 2012 and includes 10 night's accommodation, entrance fees for itinerary sites, tour escort (subject to minimum group size), quality air conditioned vehicles and small group sightseeing.  Highlights include the historical sites of the revolution, the faded colonial grandeur pf Havana and Trinidad.  Go and check the details with a telephone call to 1300 835 764.  The advertised price of from $2034 is valid  for departures January 16 2011 to February 12 2012.  

Air Pacific with business connections

Fiji's national airline has just released a range of BIZ Saver  fares.  These offer good savings on business class fares to Nadi, Fiji from Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.  The return fares are inclusive of taxes,- $1266 ex Brisbane, $1355 ex Sydney and if flying from Melbourne you pay $1354.    Purchase of tickets may be executed until January 31 2011, and are valid for travel until April 1, 2011.  

For more information go direct to Air Pacific, telephone 1800 230 151 or visit

* Please note conditions may apply to these packages  and prices are subject to change and availability.  This information is provided as a guide only.  Check with your travel agency.   Block out periods may apply.   

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Vietnam Discount - Three in a Bed - Mekong Cruise - Eastern Europe Tour - China Cruise Tour Offer


THE strength of the Australian dollar has led to huge savings for travellers planning a tour of Vietnam in 2011.

That's the message from Helen Wong's Tours which has slashed up to $1380 per person twin share off the previous year's brochure prices.

Book a 24-day Vietnam Splendour tour from the newly-released program, and the starting price is $5780 per person, twin share compared with $7160 during the previous year.

"By passing on the savings from a favourable exchange rate we are presenting travellers with extra spending power," said Helen Wong, managing director of Helen Wong's Tours. "Our new brochure features this and all kinds of savings on other tours."

Healthy savings can also be snared on tours such as the 20-day Vietnam Explorer, reduced from a starting price of $6990pp in 2010-2011 to $5480 in 2011-2012.

Other tour prices for 2011-2012 are: 16-day Best of Vietnam (now starting from $3500), 11-day Vietnam Discovery (from $3680), 18-day Vietnam Extravaganza (from $4720), 20-day Vietnam Explorer (from $5480) and the 24-day Vietnam Splendour (from $5780).

Among the Vietnam combos are the 14-day Angkor and Vietnam Discovery (from $4660), 16-day Cambodia and Vietnam Odyssey (from $5220) and the 17-day Jewels of Indochina (from $6530).

The 20-day Highlights of Laos and Vietnam (from $6050), and the 25-day Charms of Vietnam and China (from $6600) are other itineraries in the program, while the Encounters for Independent Travellers focus on Central Vietnam, South Vietnam, North Vietnam, Siem Reap, Phnom Penh and Laos' Luang Prabang and capital Vientaine.

All above prices are per person, twin share.

Take advantage of the early bird specials for bookings and deposits before January 31,2011, and a further $200 saving is offered.

Meanwhile, a surge in interest for independent touring coupled with a growing desire to visit treasured World Heritage-listed sites Halong Bay and Cambodia's famous Angkor Wat has also placed extra emphasis on Helen Wong's Tours' Vietnam 2011-2012 program.

To get up close with the local way of life in the remote villages of the Mekong Delta, a leisurely cycle tour "among the coconut groves" has been included in two independent tours.

Helen Wong's Tours' 2011-2012 Vietnam brochure also encompasses neighbouring countries Cambodia, Laos and China with a series of combo tours.

Price for tours includes return economy air fare from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane or Perth, twin share accommodation in 3- to 5-star hotels, daily breakfasts and lunches, some dinners and an evening cultural show with transfers, specified transfers, sightseeing and entrance fees, English-speaking guides and Vietnam visa for Australian passport holders.

Departure taxes, security charges and fuel surcharges are also included along with a Helen Wong's Tours travel kit and cabin bag.

Prices for the independent tours, minimum two guests, start at $640pp twin share for four days in Hanoi/Halong Bay. Air fare from Australia is extra.

Details: Helen Wong's Tours, 1300 788328 or (02) 9267 7833,


THAT's the title of the latest book from Ann Rickard, and a must-give gift this Christmas for anyone you know who is planning on heading to the Med.

From singing with locals in the Greek Islands, finding their hearts captured in Montefiascone, drinking far too much pink wine in Monaco and generally over-indulging all the way around the Mediterranean, award-winning Ann Rickard romps around the Med with her latest book, Three in a Bed in the Med.

It's her sixth travel story and tells how Ann, her husband Geoffrey and the flirtatious and abundantly endowed (and not shy about it) Amanda, owner of a beautiful 18th century property in the village of St. Maximin, set off around the Mediterranean to find the best, most glorious venues possible to include in future of their already-popular culinary travel tours.

Previous tours of the South of France proved such a runaway success that they decided expansion of the tour empire was needed –  pronto.

But somehow pronto turned in to pinot and work waned as the wine, and the evocative destinations worked their magic with the two big feisty blondes "of a certain age" and their one courageous male escort.

And when the three find themselves sharing a bed in some of the most gorgeous destinations in the world, things become a little too close and they begin to wonder if Geoffrey may well become short term, Amanda may indeed need to flirt a little less – and can both a marriage and friendship survive when there are, indeed, three in a bed in the Med?

Ann Rickard was named Australian Travel Writer of the Year in 2005 and this latest book is fast-paced, the tone rollicking and the plot never disappointing. She has a sharp eye for detail and writes with wit, honesty and passion about places that feature in all our travel fantasies.

Her self-depreciating humour is frank, clever and concise, descriptions are colourful, and her observations can be wicked, making this a story that is down-right funny.

A great Christmas gift at $25 for family or friends going to the Med in 2011.


Cruiseco has 7-nights on the fascinating Mekong River through Vietnam and Cambodia aboard the replica colonial river steamer Indochina Pandaw that carries just sixty passengers – and with new bookings made by December 17 is priced from just $5999 for the first passenger and a low $1399 for the second passenger sharing a cabin.

This value-plus saving is for a sailing from Siem Reap (Angkor) to Ho Chi Minh's My Tho Port (Saigon) on March 6 2011, but Cruiseco has other specially-discounted "second passenger savings" on a range of other sailings from December 26 this year to March 27 2011.

All include return economy air from Australia, two nights twin-share pre-cruise at the deluxe Raffles Grand d'Angkor in Angkor, and two nights post-cruise at the deluxe Caravelle Hotel in Saigon with breakfasts daily, daily sightseeing with expert local guides, and all transfers.

Indochina Pandaw's 7-cruise includes breakfasts daily, select lunches and dinners, daily shore excursions including by sampan, local ferries and trishaws with expert local guides, local beer, spirits and soft drinks on board, and 5-star service.

For detailed itineraries from Angkor to Saigon or vice-versa, together with the names of Cruiseco's 200 cruise-specialist travel agencies, visit

ADDITIONAL CRUISE HIGHLIGHTS: Highlights include floating markets, French colonial buildings and an 1875's monastery, a traditional brick and tile factory, Cambodia's Silver Pagoda, museums highlighting Khmer culture, temples, a silk-weaving village, Angkor Thom with its famous Elephant Terrace and Terrace of the Leper King.

There is also an opportunity for a moving "Killing Fields" visit in Phnom Penh and by contrast the chance to dine at the legendary Foreign Correspondents Club.

Indochina Pandaw is a faithful replica of the river steamers of the colonial Irrawaddy Flotilla Company that burned all 600 of its vessels in the 1940s to prevent them being used by the advancing Japanese Army. The 30-cabin vessel features promenade decks with cane furnishings, teak woodwork, brass fittings and large cabins – giving the ambience of holidaying aboard a private motor yacht rather than a cruise vessel.


EASTERN European specialist, Beyond Travel, has a new range of exclusive Special Journey Tours for 2011 with a generous discount of between $500 and $1000 per couple when booked and deposited by December 31.

There are eight Special Journey itineraries ranging from 10 to 22 days, each designed especially for the Australian and New Zealand market, and most made up of small groups of 20 to 28 people.

Tours cover a selection of countries including Russia, the Balkans featuring Croatia and Romania, Germany, Poland, Scandinavia and a deluxe Trans-Mongolian rail journey, each with a unique aspect that separates them from the conventional coach tours.

For example in the 17-day "Russia & Capitals Of The Baltic Sea" itinerary passengers have the opportunity to travel by the new high-speed train from Moscow to St Petersburg instead of by coach. This new train travels at up to 300km an hour and shortens the  travelling time thus giving you more time to explore St Petersburg. Also included is a ferry crossing from Helsinki to Tallinn and then onto Stockholm.

The "Berlin, Poland & Kiev" journey over 17 days features rail Berlin to Warsaw, Krakow and then continues to Odessa and Yalta before travelling by first class sleeper to Kiev. A 22 day small group Pearls of The Balkans tour features Transylvania, Bulgaria & Macedonia while the popular Slovenia and Croatia By Land and By Sea tour over 18 days features a six day privately chartered Dalmatian Islands cruise and is priced from $4800 per person twin share.

There are more than 25 special journey departures planned from May until October and all include quality centrally located accommodation with daily breakfast, a selection of speciality meals, comprehensive sight-seeing with local guides and transportation.

For more details on any escorted tour contact Beyond Travel on 1300-363-554 or email


APT has a Companion Fly Free deal on its 2011-12 China packages for bookings made by March 31, 2011.

Twenty departures (there were nine in 2010) are scheduled for APT's most popular China tour, the 13-day Imperial China package (from $5695 per person twin share) which includes icon experiences The Forbidden City in Beijing, the Great Wall at Badaling, four-night Yangtze cruise, the Terracotta Warriors at Xi'an, Suzhou and Shanghai.

The price includes cruise, hotels, most meals, local flights, coach touring and tipping.

On the flight deal which is with Cathay Pacific economy class, the companion is required to pay air taxes.

Contact: call 1300 229 804, visit or see a travel agent.

Additional detail re cruise: The cruise is on the boutique-sized 124-passenger The Sanctuary M.S. Yangzi Explorer which boasts the largest and most luxurious suites on the Yangtze, according to APT, with private balconies and exceptionally high level of service with a crew of 130.

The ship has a theatre for cultural performances and lectures, an elevator, two restaurants (the upper restaurant being for the exclusive use of the suites and the upper cabin categories) and a comprehensive wellness area (gymnasium, spa, health treatments, private massage rooms, Turkish baths, beauty and hairdressing).

APT previously used a 400-passenger vessel. The boutique The Sanctuary M.S. Yangzi Explorer is more in keeping with the style of APT's river cruise ships in Europe, Russia and Vietnam. It is better able to dock close to sites and provide easier management of excursions than the larger ships on the river.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Escorted Italy - Value Greece Turkey Egypt - Fly Cruise Argentina - Credit Card Fraud Crackdown - Affordable Vietnam


GET off the beaten track in Italy's picturesque Northern Lakes region in the European Spring or Autumn of next year, and with Australia's specialist small-group operator Carolinasusi Italia Tours you'll find yourself anything but lost.

That's because these tours are limited to just 20-guests each, and are personally escorted by Carolinasusi's owners who've been taking Australians to Italy for three years, and have been visiting the country for much longer.

It's all given them a unique insight into the mountains and lakes of Northern Italy, and friendships that enable them to take their guests into tucked-away gems seldom included by larger operators.

Such inclusions are visits to town and village markets with their unique taste sensations, tastings at family-owned wineries and grappa distilleries, a day with a chef whose family has lived here for 700 years – and by contrast the chance to shop for designer clothes, dine and take a walking tour of the streets of Romeo and Juliet's Verona, and to explore Vicenza and Venice.

These personally-escorted 15-night tours in May/June and again in September 2011 are based for the first week in the little city of Varese in the lower alpine highlands of the Italian Lakes, and the second in the smaller town of Bassano del Grappa at the foot of the mountains.

Lake cruises, visits to the villas of the 'twenties and 'thirties rich and famous, fortified towns, breakfasts and most dinners, a lunch in an alpine or lakeside venue, coach transfers and tours, villa entries, a rack-railway excursion, and the full time Australian escorts backed-up by local guides are all included – ensuring there are no nasty cost surprises along the tour.

Prices start from $6485pp twin-share ex-Milan; for full details phone (07) 3396 8652, (07) 3262 6332 or visit


CHAT Tours who have been specialising in holidays for Australians to Greece, Egypt and Turkey for more than thirty years, say 2011 will offer some of the best value-ever to these destinations because of the strength of our dollar, increasingly competitive price-driven airfares, and with its own strong buying power and reductions in Chat Tours' own pricing –  prices next year that will in most cases be below those of 2010.

A just-released 52-page brochure of Chat Tours' offerings in 2011 is a veritable handbook of how best to enjoy a value holiday in these regions, with detailed Athens stopovers and Greece hotel and apartment stays, coach tours through Greece, Greek Island cruises and island-hopping passes, and Aegean and Adriatic cruises that include such combinations such as the Greek Islands and Turkey.

There's also the option to choose yacht-style cruises, Turkey coach and cruise tours, Gallipoli mini- and longer-stay tours, and tours of Egypt and Israel including cruising the Nile, all backed by Chat Tours' individualised services, unmatched experience and local knowledge.

This information-packed brochure is essential reading for those considering a holiday in Greece, Egypt or Turkey in 2011; for a free copy phone (02) 9221 2300, toll-free 1800 22 22  32 or visit

CHAT Tours background information: Chat Tours' parent company Hermes en Grece was established in Athens 85 years ago and Chat Tours has had offices in Australia for past 31 years, making it Australia's leader in holidays to "its corner" of the Mediterranean.

Chat Tours has its own fleet of luxury coaches for Greece touring and its sister company, the Amalia group operates a chain of superior hotels in major tourist centres.


CRUISECO has an enticing start to 2011 with a 20-night fly, cruise and stay package departing Sydney on February 23 , 2011 that includes 2-nights in Buenos Aires, a 2-night visit to the famous Iguazu Falls, and 14-nights of luxury cruising from Buenos Aires to Santiago where there's a further 2-nights stay.

Return economy airfares and air taxes from Sydney are also included as well as breakfasts daily at pre- and post-cruise hotels and all transfers.

The 2-night pre-cruise Iguazu Falls visit includes return air from Buenos Aires, breakfasts daily, and a full day's sightseeing of the Brazilian and Argentinean sides of the Falls, with lunch included; there are also half-day sightseeing tours in Buenos Aires and Santiago.

The 14-night cruise is aboard Celebrity Cruises' Infinity that sails from Buenos Aires on February 27 2011 for Montevideo, Punta del Este, Puerto Madryn, the world's southern-most city Ushuaia, Punta Arenas, Puerto Montt, and Valparaiso for Santiago.

Prices start from $6929pp twin-share including all on board dining, entertainment and gratuities on Infinity; for full details, prices from all capital cities and the names of Cruiseco's 200 cruise-specialist travel agencies visit


AUSTRALIAN hotels, motels and guest houses will be armed with a digital tracking system to stop cheque and credit card fraudsters this summer holiday season.

"Guests who use fake cheques or payment cards to pay their bills cost our members millions of dollars a year," said Hotel Motel & Accommodation Association (HMAA) Chief Executive Lorraine Duffy.

"Exactly how much is unknown because many cases of fraud and bill skipping go unreported, and until now there has been no way of tracking the problem and identifying offenders," she said.

"But from now on HMAA's 2000-plus members will be granted free access to the GuestTRAX reporting system to enable them to identify suspects and take suitable action."

GuestTRAX was developed by former Queensland police officer Bruce Nicholls after he noticed that many cases of cheque and payment card fraud either went unreported or were not tracked by police forces across Australia.

"This meant offenders are able to commit fraud and scams with virtual immunity in a nation-wide scam that is costing small businesses at least $85 million a year - more than employee theft, burglary, robbery and vandalism combined," Ms Duffy added.

She said Mr Nicholls drew on 28 years of law enforcement work to develop his world-first GuestTRAX system, which had the ability to be applied to rental cars and other services.


A day's cruising of breathtaking Halong Bay and its sprinkling of craggy limestone isles is one of the many treasured highlights on Helen Wong's Tours' 11-day Glimpse of Vietnam program, priced from $2900 per person, twin share.

For those with more time and a slightly larger holiday budget, the 16-day Best of Vietnam program also represents good value, priced from $3950pp, twin share.

Like the lead-in tour, it too includes a cruise of the bay with the UNESCO World Heritage listing, east of capital Hanoi.

"To cruise Halong Bay is sheer magic," said Helen Wong's Tours Marketing manager Jason Sacriz. "The fact that it has UNESCO World Heritage protection speaks volume for its natural appeal," he said. "Our travellers board for a cruise which appropriately includes a seafood lunch."

The above pair of Helen Wong's Tours programs begin in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and include visits to the Mekong Delta, Hoi An and imperial Hue as well as bustling Hanoi. The latter tour extends to include mountainous Sapa and the ethnic minority village of Black Hmong in the country's far northern region.

Both tour prices include return economy airfares to Vietnam, economy class air travel within Vietnam, three-to-four star accommodation, daily breakfasts, most lunches and some dinners, an evening cultural show, transfers, sightseeing and entrance fees and the escort of English-speaking guides.

Vietnam visas for Australian passport holders are also included along with departures taxes, security charges and fuel surcharges, and travel kit and cabin bag.

In addition to these 11 and 16-day tours, Helen Wong's Tours' has longer programs of up to 24 days, some merged with visits to Cambodia, Laos and China.

It also has an Encounters program for independent travellers.

Details: Helen Wong's Tours, phone (02) 9267 7833, 1300 788328, or request a brochure online

Mekong Cruise - Russian Arctic - NZ Ski Package - Adelaide Circus - Turkey Tour


John Crook

Seven night Mekong adventure

Steaming down the Mekong through Cambodia and Vietnam and a whole new world awaits.  Even for those who have travelled Vietnam previously, there's so much more to discover.  It's almost time that I revisited south east Asia and arguably there could be no better way of 'doing' a return than  by joining the group on a seven-nights cruise  aboard the replica colonial steamer Indochina Pandaw.  On March 6 2011 she sails Angkor to Saigon. Pay from $5999 for the first passenger and a low $1399, twin share,  for the second passenger, with inclusions of daily breakfasts, select lunches and dinners, daily shore excursions and more.  Visit the floating markets,  the French colonial buildings from another era,  museums highlighting Khmer culture, temples and even a silk-weaving village.  A word of advice!  This is one of those great tours which do not disappoint when it comes to inclusions.   Cruisco's cruise-specialist travel agencies can help.   For the good news go visit  

Secrets of the Russian arctic

Here's news of an adventure just waiting to happen.  Aurora Expeditions has two brand-new voyages into the Russian Arctic, aboard an ice-strengthened research ship built in 1982 and refurbished 2008.  Each cruise carries just 54 passengers. Prices start from $US6,900 per person twin share.  For details and conditions it's just a matter of visiting  

The voyages are staffed by premium expedition leaders, naturalists, historians and geologists and obviously each of the Russian crew members is keen to show the natural beauty of their country.

Kiwi ski packages

Skimax has just released an array of early bird packages in New Zealand's north and south islands.   These are competitive.  The packages include one free night and one free day's car.  The packages are scattered throughout kiwi-land.  For instance Ski Queenstown offers seven days compact car rental, seven nights twin share in a standard room at Sherwood Hotel  and a three-day ski pass valid at Coronet Peak and the aptly named The Remarkables.  This package is priced from $579 per person twin share. Conditions apply, with a book and pay by January 15 2011 with  travel  dates  June 15 to September 30 2011.

Adelaide circus theatre premiere

Australia's largest outdoor arts festival precinct features the nation's best carnival venues at the Garden of Unearthly Delights,- so popular with Adelaide's festival goers.  The action begins Thursday February 10 with a concert program and entertainment wonderland.  Why would you want to be there?  Quite simply because of the following! The Adelaide premiere of Cantina which is a delicious piece of circus theatre. The program features comedy-festival stars, funny men and funny girls, nightly acrobatic drummers and heaps of music.   Just some of the reasons why you should consider being in Adelaide for the February event/s !  For more information and bookings go visit  telephone (08) 8121 5122.  

Classic Turkey

There's an eight-day tour which includes Istanbul and a great range of historic and classic sites in Turkey, with the package valid for travel until October 15, 2011 and priced from $1921 per person twin share.   The advertised price is valid for departures April 9 to October 11.

Guests on this tour will have the chance to visit the Gallipoli, Anzac Cove, the World Heritage site of Troy and the Temple of Aphrodite.   There's much more of the best advice, so call 1300 836 764.  Terms and conditions apply and subject to change and availability.  For bookings email  

* Please note conditions may apply to these packages  and prices are subject to change and availability.  This information is provided as a guide only.  Check with your travel agency.   Block out periods may apply.  

Need a holiday ?  We're archived on