Midsummer Dreams: the finest places to follow the sun
Yes, we do mean midsummer. It may be freezing here, but in the southern hemisphere this Friday marks the longest day of the year
Simon Calder is Travel Editor at Large for The Independent, writing a weekly column, various articles and features as well as filming a weekly video diary. Every Sunday afternoon, Simon presents the UK's only radio travel phone-in programme called The LBC Travel Show with Simon Calder (97.3 FM). He is a regular guest on national TV, often seen on BBC Breakfast, Daybreak, ITV News and Sky News. He is often interviewed on BBC Radio, particularly for BBC Radio 4’s You & Yours programme and BBC Five Live.
Wednesday 19 December 2012
The solo traveller has all the advantages when availability is scarce – and the three-week Trails of New Zealand trip from Exodus (0845 287 7681; exodus.co.uk), departing 6 January, has just one place left at £6,499. The itinerary includes the one-day Tongariro Crossing, rafting on the Buller River, watching the seals at Tonga Island, the chance to walk on the Fox Glacier and a free day in Queenstown. The price includes flights on Air New Zealand from Heathrow, local transportation (including a scenic flight over Aspiring National Park), most breakfast and lunches and three dinners.
Who said that?
"Nobody on the road/Nobody on the beach/I feel it in the air/The summer's out of reach" – Don Henley, "Boys of Summer"
"The summer still doth tend upon my state" – Titania in A Midsummer's Night Dream by William Shakespeare
"May the road always rise to meet you, May the wind always be at your back, May the sun shine warm upon your face" – Pilgrim's Blessing
"Set the controls for the heart of the sun" – Roger Waters, Pink Floyd
"Most people set off a week or so before Christmas, and return early in the New Year. Fares soar and seats are scarce. Instead, head off on 24 or 25 December, when fares drop. Travelling a week or so later than the rest of the pack, you will probably also return later, when availability starts to open up. A final tip for a bargain Christmas 2013: the best deals are to be had if you book in January." – Haydn Wrath, founder, Travel Nation)
The waters of southern Tasmania offer some of the finest diving in Australia, and even though Hobart is the toughest state capital to reach, Expedia (020 3564 4856; expedia.co.uk) still has availability at £1,800 return from Heathrow on Etihad, connecting at Melbourne to Jetstar. On the Tasman Peninsula, with the classy address of Pirates Bay Drive, is the Eaglehawk Dive Centre (00 61 3 6250 3566; eaglehawkdive.com.au), a PADI five-star operation. Under the eLearning course, you can cover the theory online in advance, and do the practical sessions in two days for A$625 (£409), including equipment and three nights' accommodation.
Flying down to South America's dream destination is still feasible. Travelocity (0871 472 5116; travelocity.co.uk) has Iberia seats from Heathrow via Madrid to Rio, staying at the Pestana Rio Atlantica overlooking Copacabana Beach, for £1,476 including breakfast. But if you can wait until 3 January, just when Britain is getting back to work, Journey Latin America (020 3051 4271; journeylatinamerica.co.uk) has a 10-day "Essential Rio and Beach Getaway" for £2,332. It includes flights, transfers to Paraty (west of Rio) and Buzios (east) and good-quality accommodation with breakfast.
Western Australia's capital, Perth, is experiencing another get-rich-quick epoch, as the state's mineral wealth is dug up and exported to Asia. The city offers a winning combination of nature, culture and coast – and over the next few weeks hotel rates are low as miners return home to spend time with their families. At The Melbourne (00 61 8 9320 3333; melbournehotel.com.au), the rate for a double until 16 January is A$139 (£91), room only. If you have struck gold in life, treat yourself to award-winning business class on Qantas (08457 747 767; qantas.com), from Heathrow via Singapore, for £5,157.
The voluptuous island is not at its climatic best in the next week or two: you can expect strong south-easterly winds and a fair amount of cloud and rain. However, keep things in perspective: you will still have plenty of time to enjoy this fabulous fusion of Asia, Africa, France and Britain on one of the Indian Ocean's most beautiful islands. Luxury resorts are clustered along the west, north and east coasts of the island; the south coast is more rugged. British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) flies from Heathrow, and offers a one-week package departing 22 December for £3,000, including half-board at the indulgent Le Meridien Ile Maurice.
The fastest way to access the deep south of the planet is to fly to South Africa. While Johannesburg is the most accessible gateway, with fares on KLM from a range of UK airports available for around £1,200 return, Cape Town has the most appeal. Besides the city's spectacular natural setting – beneath Table Mountain close to the southern tip of Africa – you can enjoy the nation's most diverse city, and pay your respects to Nelson Mandela with a trip out to the former prison where he was incarcerated on Robben Island. Opodo.co.uk has an online fare of £1,344 return on Emirates from Manchester to Cape Town via Dubai; similar fares are still available from Birmingham, Gatwick, Heathrow, Newcastle and Glasgow.
What's the attraction?
At noon on Friday, 21 December, should the skies around you be clear, you will see the Sun at its lowest maximum elevation of the year. The Earth's position relative to the Sun means that, even in Cornwall and the Channel Islands, the length of the day between sunrise and sunset will barely stretch past eight hours. Happily, the Northern Hemisphere's midwinter gloom enjoys an equal and opposite phenomenon south of the equator.
From the beaches of Rio and the Western Cape to the wilderness of Tasmania and New Zealand's South Island, 21 December will be the longest day. While demand for southbound flights peaks in the next few days, there is still time to book a midsummer's dream trip to escape the worst of winter.
Unless otherwise stated, all prices are for departures on 21 December, returning 29 December; inclusive holidays are per person based on two travelling. Rates and availability were checked when this feature went to press, but may change.
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