News: Tourists fly south for winter

All aboard for Russian experience
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The Independent Travel

Above the Equator the nights are already drawing in - and, for southern hemisphere destinations, bookings are rolling in. The coming northern winter could offer the best value yet for travellers aiming for Australasia, as airlines continue to increase capcacity. Cathay Pacific has announced an extra daily flight to Sydney from its base of Hong Kong, starting at the end of October, with easy connections from the UK to Australia's largest city.

Prices are being forced down by strong competition from other Far East airlines; Korean Air is selling a Heathrow-Sydney return for departures between 21 August and 2 December for just £583 through Trailfinders, with free stopovers in Seoul. Japan Airlines is also offering very low fares for flights via Tokyo.

Among travellers seeking an escape from the northern winter, New Zealand has seen a steady increase in visitor numbers in the past two years. Partly this was due to the Lord of the Rings effect; the director Peter Jackson's trilogy of Tolkein tales was filmed in the South Island. But according to Arran Sutherland, air product manager for Quest Travel, UK travellers are becoming more adventurous: "Repeat visitors are getting into less obvious regions, such as the southern end of the North Island and the northern end of the South Island." Sutherland's company has launched a stand-alone brochure to meet demand; previously, New Zealand had shared space with Australia.

In South America, Argentina is excellent value, but British travellers find they are competing for space with US visitors. If there is no room at the hacienda, Chile is a possible alternative, according to Richard Laker of South American Experience: "The so-called 'frontier territory' is opening up."

Trailfinders: 020-7938 3939; www.trailfinders.com.

Quest Travel: 0870 444 5552; www.questtravel.com.

South American Experience: 020-7976 5511; www.southamericanexperience.co.uk

All aboard for Russian experience

As the "White Nights" of St Petersburg draw to a close, the overnight rail service between the past and present Russian capitals has been enhanced. The Red Arrow train between Moscow and St Petersburg has acquired a deluxe carriage. Each of four state-rooms costs just over 10,000 roubles (£200) for two adults and any children under the age of 12.

Frills include flat-screen television, all-night room service and a shower cubicle - this is said to be "somewhat simple in nature" but is a first on the route.

The Red Arrow leaves both cities at one minute to midnight and takes just over eight hours to complete its journey. It remains the most prestigious of over a dozen night trains between Russia's two main cities, and has served the route since the Tsarist era. Before the revolution, a brass band would signal its departure from St Petersburg by playing "God Save the Tsar". Under Communism this was replaced by a recording of the Soviet national anthem. The train now leaves St Petersburg to Reinhold Gliere's "Anthem To A Mighty City", but arrives in Moscow to "Moskva-Moskva!", a rock-patriotic hit by "naughty-boy" showbiz star Oleg Gazmanov.

The Red Arrow's rivals include the "Nikolaevsky Express", which features liveried train personnel in replica uniforms of the Tsarist era, while "The Express" offers uniformed on-board security guards who march around and salute everyone.

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