It's All Up in the Air in Land Down Under

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tour the land Down Under on a trip that highlights the Australian International Air Show. The tour, which also heads to New Zealand, runs Feb. 14 to March 4. Guests will fly to Sydney first and tour the city before heading to Melbourne for the air show. Non-aviation buffs can use the time during the air show to tour the area. Guests then fly to Cairns and will explore the Great Barrier Reef via catamarans and the rain forest near Kuranda. New Zealand follows, with visits in Christchurch, Queenstown and Milford Sound. Sights include a sheep-shearing station, the Wanaka Fighter Pilots Museum and the Tasman Sea via boat for a luncheon cruise.

Cost: $4,800 per person, double occupancy, including round-trip air fare, hotels, daily breakfast, some meals, entrance fees and the lunch cruise.

Contact: Jerren Auble Travel Service; telephone (714) 731-8020.

Yucatan: Cruise

Witness the annual celestial phenomenon of sun and shadow on stone--the Mayan Equinox in Chichen Itza--on an 11-day cruise leaving March 16. The cruise on the Stella Solaris also highlights lectures on Maya culture, with presentations from Edwin Krupp, director of the Griffith Observatory, and Warren Young, an astronomer.

Ports of call are Belize City, Belize; Playa del Carmen, Mexico; Isla de Roatan, Honduras; Santo Tomas de Castilla, Mexico; Puerto Cortes, Honduras; and Cozumel, Mexico.

Cost: $2,203 per person, double occupancy, including all airport transfers, a hotel stay in Houston (ship departs from Galveston, Texas), a full-day excursion to Chichen Itza for the vernal equinox ceremony and all meals on board. Air fare and port taxes not included.

Contact: Carolyn Edwards, Mesa Travel; telephone (805) 684-6601.

South Africa: Wildlife

Join Norm Cole, a professor of biology and ecology, for a 13-day natural history safari to South Africa. The trip departs Jan. 4. The group will travel through little-disturbed habitats to see lions, elephants, rhinos, giraffes, zebras, hippos, leopards, crocodiles and more than 400 species of birds.

Activities include guided walks, day and night wildlife drives from open four-wheel-drive vehicles, and snorkeling and beach exploration during the leatherback turtle-hatching season. Accommodations are in remote game lodges and wilderness camps, including Kirkman's Kamp, a 1920s-era homestead in South Africa's Mala Mala game reserve. A four-day extension to Cape Town is offered.

Cost: $5,295 per person, double occupancy, including international (from Los Angeles) and domestic flights, ground transportation, superior accommodations, all meals, guides, entry fees and transfers. Cape Town extension is $895.

Contact: Park East Tours; tel. (800) 223-6078, Ext. 321.

Africa: New Year's

Bring in the New Year in Benin, Africa, on a tour that departs Dec. 30. The group will celebrate New Year's in Cotonou, the port city, with traditional meals and dancers. The group moves on to Porto-Novo to visit historical sites and surrounding villages and take a canoe ride through Ganvie, a watery town where houses are on stilts. Guests also will see museums in Dan-Home, the former slave center of Quidah, the city of Lome in Togo and Abidjan (Ivory Coast) for shopping.

Cost: $3,595 per person, double occupancy, including round-trip air fare from New York, air from Benin to Abidjan, hotels, and daily breakfast and some meals.

Contact: Julie Ward of Gallery Asha; tel. (310) 670-0135.

Mexico: Colonial Cities

An art and culture tour to several Mexican colonial cities runs from Oct. 31 to Nov. 9. The tour will visit Patzquaro, Morelia, Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende. It will include Day of the Dead rituals and ceremonies in Patzquaro, visits to the studios of contemporary artists and the workshops of artisans, visits to some of the best markets in Mexico with an array of goods from handicrafts to antiques, an informal art history and culture talk by a professor, visits to museums, and a house and garden tour of some of San Miguel de Allende's most beautiful homes.

Cost: $1,845 per person, double occupancy, including first-class hotels, ground transportation, some meals and sightseeing. Air fare is not included.

Contact: Jean Grimm of Mexican Art Tours; tel. (602) 730-1764.

New York: Museums

Los Angeles artist Jacqueline Dreager will lead a preholiday tour to New York, Dec. 17 to 23. Tour members will visit new museums and galleries in Chelsea and SoHo. Guests also meet with artists and visit an artist's studio. The weeklong program includes tickets to two Broadway shows.

Cost: $1,495 per person, double occupancy including air fare from Los Angeles, six nights in a first-class hotel, transfers, city bus tour and entrance fees to five museums.

Contact: Broadway Melody; tel. (323) 227-8370.

Texas: Holidays

Corliss Tours is offering two departures of a six-day "San Antonio Holiday" tour. The Thanksgiving tour departs Nov. 25, and the Christmas tour departs Dec. 22. Both tours feature accommodations at the Hilton Palacio Del Rio, located on the Riverwalk. Sightseeing in San Antonio is included. Local attractions visited are the Alamo, the IMAX Theater, the Japanese Sunken Gardens, the King William Historic District, the Missions, Hemisfair Plaza, the Institute of Texan Cultures, and the Buckhorn Saloon and Museum. A ticket to ride the riverboats on the Riverwalk is also provided.

Guests also take a day trip to the LBJ Ranch in Johnson City and the Admiral Nimitz Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg. A second day trip visits Austin, where stops are made at the state capitol, the University of Texas campus and the LBJ Library.

Tour members will have reserved seats for the annual Floating Holiday River Parade and Lighting Ceremony on the Thanksgiving tour. Participants on the Christmas Tour can enjoy the thousands of lights in trees and on the bridges of the Riverwalk during their stay.

Cost: $799 per person, double occupancy, including hotel accommodations, three meals (including a traditional Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner), admission to attractions, motor coach transportation, airport transfers, baggage handling, taxes and guides. Air fare to San Antonio is additional.

Contact: Corliss Tours; tel. (800) 482-4597.

Spain: Art, Castles

Discover Spain while visiting medieval Castile and Moorish Andalusia on a trip that runs May 24 to June 6, 1999. The tour begins in Madrid, the capital and cultural center of Spain, and ends at the Costa del Sol on the Mediterranean. Participants will visit the legendary cities of Toledo and Segovia as well as Cordoba, Seville and Granada. The group will visit the oldest gardens in Europe, including private town and country gardens and a ranch in Seville. Castles, cathedrals, palaces, and art collections in museums and private collections are featured on the tour. A day in Bilbao to tour the new Guggenheim Museum is also planned. Guests will meet prominent Spanish families in their homes and enjoy regional cuisine in private homes and restaurants.

Cost: $3,998 per person, double occupancy, including first-class accommodations, motor coach and AVE train within Spain, breakfast daily and some meals, all sightseeing and tour fees. Air fare is extra.

Contact: Landmark Travel; tel. (925) 253-2600.

East Coast: Foliage

The global Country Walkers tour company has fall foliage hikes in coastal Nova Scotia, coastal Maine and central Vermont through October. Daily distances are four to eight miles.

Cost: The Canadian hike is seven days, six nights and costs $1,650 per person, double occupancy. Maine is five days, four nights at $1,295 per person. Vermont is six days, five nights for $1,425 per person. Costs include accommodations and most meals. Air fare is extra.

Contact: Country Walkers; tel. (800) 464-9255.

The Times is not responsible for changes in prices, dates or itineraries. These should be confirmed with travel agents or tour operators.

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