Something To Declare: Australasia for under Â£400; one eye closed in London; anywhere in Britain by bus for Â£9
The column that gives the global picture
Saturday 03 January 2004
Destination of the week: Australasia for under £400
Whether or not you feel that sky marshals are a good idea, the deals currently on offer to cities in Australia and New Zealand are such good value that the most anxious flyer might take a chance.
The lowest fares are from Austravel (0870 166 2003, www.austravel.com). To fill the remaining seats on its once-a-week winter-only service from Gatwick to Sydney, the firm has cut the return fare for departures on 9 and 16 January to just £399 - with a one-way ticket available for only £99, which is an all-time best for 10,000 miles of air travel. The other excellent Austravel deal - which other agents also have, though not necessarily at so low a price - is with Cathay Pacific. Travel out before 22 March, and you pay just £539 return from Heathrow to any of the mainland state capitals: Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. You can stop over (at your expense) in Hong Kong.
If you wish to go no further than the former British colony, Trailfinders (020-7938 3939, www.trailfinders.com) has a fare of £299 return from Heathrow to Hong Kong, for departures between February and mid-June (but not 21 March-25 April). To get this fare, two people must fly together.
Travelling westwards to Australasia, Air New Zealand is offering a low-season deal from Heathrow to Auckland in the low £500s. Book direct with the airline, for outbound travel between 16 April to 15 June, and you pay £535. Through agents you should be able to shave £10-£20 from this figure, which will buy you a decent lunch in Auckland.
Warning of the week: one eye closed in London
As is now customary, the British Airways London Eye is to close for maintenance for a month from Monday, 5 January. There are several alternatives on London's South Bank for a fine prospect of the capital, with the bonus that all are free.
The closest to the London Eye is the Royal Festival Hall. Take the lift to the fifth floor for a fine view of the river (and the London Eye). Next along is the Oxo Tower, which has a little-known Visitors' Gallery as part of the eighth-floor restaurant. You are at liberty to take the lift to this floor and ask for access to the viewing area at any time the tower is open.
Some visitors to the Tate Modern at Bankside find the panorama of London from the upper floors more appealing than some of the art on show. Furthermore, like the London Eye, you can appreciate it with a coffee from the adjacent café.
You have to plan carefully to see the view from the top of City Hall, home of the Greater London Authority, between London Bridge and Tower Bridge. London's living-room, as the top-floor circuit is known, opens to the public only on selected weekends; the next is 17 and 18 January. See www.london.gov.uk for other dates.
The London Eye (0870 5000 600, www.londoneye.com) reopens on 4 February.
Bargain of the week: anywhere in Britain by bus for £9
Trains, boats, planes and even coaches find it hard to fill seats in January and February. To try to shift some of the spare capacity on its long-distance buses, National Express has capped its top fare at £9 one-way, £18 return, regardless of distance. You must book at least a week in advance online at the special website www.GoAnywhereFare.co.uk or through a National Express agent; booking by phone on 08705 80 80 80 costs an extra £1. Unfortunately, the special fare does not apply to airport services.
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