AT THE CLINIC

Your questions answered by our panel of travel experts, including a doctor and a lawyer
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The Independent Online
Wanted: Oz the hard way

I'm keen to do some trekking in the Outback of Australia but, serial killers aside, I've heard that the best routes are challenging to the point of being dangerous. Are there any good organised treks available (as manly as possible please - I need plenty of near-death experiences to report to my friends when I get home) or can you recommend any routes which are exciting but not life-threatening?

M Grady

Pewsey, Wiltshire

Jill Crawshaw replies: No problem about organised treks within Australia - there's a large choice varying from the relatively luxurious to the rough and ready, almost deprived.

Among Explore Worldwide's (01252 344161) selection, there's a 20-day Rain Forest and Reef tour using a special expedition four-wheel drive vehicle in the northern Queensland wilderness, camping in the rain forest and travelling back to the Barrier Reef by catamaran.

Groups are from about 15-20 people, and it costs pounds 2,195 from London back to London, or pounds 1,175 if you want to join the trek at Cairns. The company also has a new Kimberley wilderness tour combining the Northern Territories with the remote Kimberleys including the Bungle Bungles, travelling on rugged roads and bush camping. The 26-day tour costs pounds 2,l59 and pounds l,230 respectively.

If you fancy walking, specialist operator Sherpa Expeditions (0181 577 2717) has a new series of five to seven-day treks. A "Roof of Australia" seven-day walk among glacial lakes, snow gum woodlands and a climb up the country's highest peak, Mt Kosciusko (2,228m) costs pounds 591.

Quest Worldwide (0181 547 3322) has some great trekking ideas, particularly in Queensland. It runs special rain forest treks, wildlife tours and a six-day adventure trek (pounds 329) which includes white water rafting, hot air ballooning, jet boating or sea kayaking, a Karanda train trip and a Barrier Reef trip.

In South Australia, a seven-day camping camel trek to the Flinders Range costs pounds 465. If you want to play postman on the world's longest mail-run, you can hitch a ride (from pounds 545) on an air tour, visiting 28 small settlements and working stations in four days.

Jetset (0161 953 0920) runs carping adventures of varying length in four- wheel drive vehicles; a two and three-day safari from Ayers Rock costs pounds l00.

Lots of hip advice on downunder - where to "chill out, crash, stay cool and get the adrenaline buzz of your life" in The Great Escape available free from Austravel (0171 584 0202). The breaks last from two to 16 days. An eight-day Perth to Darwin trek costs pounds 412.

Other organisations well worth contacting are Trailfinders (0171 938 3939), which can tailor make any kind of trek for you, advise on itineraries and visas, travel passes and accommodation.

Also the Australian Tourist Commission (0990 561434) produces a useful free guide listing other trekking and camping companies, and factsheets on subjects such as bushwalking, camel treks, national parks, camping and other subjects.

2 Jill Crawshaw is a travel expert, writer and broadcaster

How to avoid sick children

My wife and I are planning to travel around Thailand for three weeks later this year and want to take our four-year-old son with us. We are naturally worried about him becoming sick during our stay and would like some advice on which jabs he would need, and whether he has to take anti-malaria tablets. Also, what sort of medications should we take with us? Finally, if he does get struck down by an upset stomach, what should we do?

John Signy

Ashington, Northumberland

Dr Gill Lea replies: With a small child it is worthwhile planning to avoid places where malaria tablets are required (nuisance of taking before, during and four weeks after the trip, possible side effects). In Thailand, main centres such as Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket are the lowest risk. Aim to keep away from border areas. If you want to go north, only visit rural or forested countryside by day and be back into Chiang Mai city by dusk. This reduces the malaria risk and you need not take tablets, but you should still try to reduce mosquito bites by wearing cover-up clothes and using insect repellant between dusk and dawn. It is also ideal to reduce bites in the daytime, as there can be mosquitoes carrying dengue fever. Seek medical advice about any unexplained fever, especially in the first month, but right up to a year after return. Check that your son is up to date with immunisations. Typhoid immunisation is advised. Most doctors don't recommend hepatitis A vaccine for small children - they get the disease mildly and gain life-long immunity.

The important points for treating diarrhoea in a child is firstly to prevent dehydration by giving plenty to drink (using an oral rehydration solution if possible). Small amounts of starchy foods are fine if he feels like it. Secondly, seek medical attention early, certainly after 24 hours. Oral rehydration solution is made from sachets of salts mixed with boiled or safe water - essential to carry for children. Other useful medication includes paediatric paracetamol, calamine lotion, mild insect repellant and sun screen.

l Dr Gill Lea is chief medical adviser at Trailfinders' immunisation clinic, 194 Kensington High Street, London W8 7RG (0171 938 3999)

HK here I come

I am planning to visit China in the forthcoming summer and hope to be in Hong Kong on 1 July to witness the final lowering of the Union Jack and the transfer of sovereignty back to China. Will I, as a British citizen, need a Chinese visa to stay in Hong Kong after 1 July this year?

Julia Franklin

London EC1

The Travel Editor replies: Basically, the situation concerning visas for Hong Kong and China is set to remain exactly the same as it is. Visas will not be required from the citizens of most Western countries for stays of up to three months (though the special status currently granted to British citizens, enabling them to stay for up to one year, is likely to be dropped).

Visas to enter China will still be required and these will continue to be obtainable in Hong Kong in the normal straightforward way, through any hotel or travel agent or from Chinese embassies abroad.

One of the implications of this is that there will be no free movement of people between the two territories. Curiously, the border between Hong Kong and China will have to remain in place exactly as it is today, and travellers passing through in either direction will need to have their documents stamped. The vast majority of Chinese citizens, contrary to their own expectations, will still not be permitted to enter Hong Kong.

Top to bottom?

Is it possible to drive from the northern tip of North America to the southern tip of South America? My husband and I are wondering how to save our souls from the rat-race and this is one of the options.

C Hannah

Manchester

The Travel Editor replies: By road you will probably never make it. Theoretically, you can drive as far south as Panama from North America, but from Yaviza, deep in the Panamanian rainforest, the Carretera Panamericana comes to an end.

From here the only land option is to take a dangerous, lengthy walk (a week or two) through the Darien Gap. No. Put your car on the ferry between Colon, Panama, and Cartagena, Colombia. From Colombia follow the west coast through Ecuador and Peru to Chile.

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