Group offers island escape for singles

Island getaway for singles

Single travellers with an eye on the Cook Islands can join a trip with new travel group Gathering Holidays. Aimed at 28- to 45-year-olds, the trip includes a lagoon cruise, stand-up paddle-boarding and a "speed-friending" event.

There is also an optional donation of time as a volunteer in orphanages, schools, refuges or animal shelters.

The trip departs Australia on March 15 and costs from $2399 a person twin share, including six nights' accommodation. See www.thegatheringholidays.com.

Short stops extended

A short break in Beijing or Shanghai is now possible with China's announcement of visa-free entry for transit tourists. The Consulate General of China in Melbourne has confirmed that since January 1, citizens from 45 countries, including Australia, have been allowed a 72-hour stop en route to their destination. Shanghai has had a 48-hour visa-free system since 2000.

New paths to enlightenment

While many pilgrims follow the Camino Frances to Santiago de Compostela (the Way of St James), a distance of almost 800 kilometres starting on the French side of the Pyrenees, one Australian tour agency is leading groups in a comfortable fashion on the lesser-known trails.

Diane McDonald, of Travel Enriched, says the trips include the Camino Portugues, starting in Lisbon, and the Camino Finisterre, from Santiago to historic fishing villages along the rugged Atlantic coast. Another walk follows the Camino Mozarabe from Granada.

McDonald, who left her desk job to spend two years researching the areas, says the trips are for people who may consider themselves least likely to take such a journey.

"We provide opportunities for those who want to experience being on The Way without having to walk long distances, backpacking and staying in hostel dormitories," McDonald says. A typical day starts at about 8.30am. The walks follow forest and farming tracks and go through hamlets and vineyards. Transport between hotels is organised for luggage and those who want to walk less. Accommodation is in family-run hotels.

Trips are 10 to 15 days and cost from $2295 a person, twin share, departing April, May, September and October. See www.travelenriched.com.au.

Driving tips for Euro trips

Travellers to France, take note: carrying two unused breathalysers in a vehicle is compulsory, according to a new guide for Australian drivers about navigating Europe's roads. Car rental company GlobalCARS has developed the guide for such matters as driving on the right side of the road. It includes information about drink-driving laws, insurance requirements, traffic fines and emergency telephone numbers.

See www.globalcars.com.au.

Lake begins dry run

There have been some stunning images of South Australia's Lake Eyre in flood in recent years and now its waters are receding, photography trips are enabling people to shoot a different view. Flinders Ranges is also included in the package.

Led by Air Wilpena with photographer Peter Elfes, who spent four years documenting the lake and the central and eastern desert regions of Australia, the trip includes four nights at the Wilpena Pound Resort, walking and four-wheel-drive tours and workshops by Elfes.

Aerial photography will be on the schedule on the flight to Lake Eyre, with an overnight stop at Marree and return via Andamooka.

Six-day trips depart June 4 and October 22 and cost $4475 a person. See www.airwilpena.com.au.

Safely in the danger zone

Excursions to Chernobyl, the Ukraine town that was the site of the world's worst nuclear accident in 1986, are being offered by Australian tour group Travel Directors. A spokeswoman says the visit to the exclusion zone, through the abandoned town of Pripyat, is by a local guide who provides insight into the impact on the community.

"The visit to Pripyat is particularly eerie, because the abandoned fun-fair was quite extensive and brand new - it was due to be opened a few days after the explosion. So it never operated," she says. There is also a stop at the reactor and the monument to those who died.

It's part of the 27-day tour Beyond the Black Sea, which costs $13,947 a person, twin share, and departs August 30. See www.traveldirectors.com.au.

Drawn to new heights

The works of British artist Ben Eine have made it to Virgin Atlantic's Upper Class with the launch of a commercial gallery at 10,000 metres.

Eine's work gained prominence when British Prime Minister David Cameron presented one to President Obama on his first official state visit in 2010. Works on display - and for sale from £2500 ($3800) - are on flights between London and New York. Gallery in the Air runs until February 28.

Send news to smarttraveller@fairfax.com.au

The story Group offers island escape for singles first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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