Smart Traveller

Groove before you move

Musos take note, Virgin Atlantic's Clubhouse at London's Heathrow Airport has a professional recording studio. The studio has an industry-standard digital editing and mixing system, Pro Tools, and content can be emailed or uploaded to a record company, broadcaster or producer direct from the Clubhouse. The studio is free to use but you will need to have an Upper Class ticket to gain access.

Meantime, in all classes of travel, Virgin Atlantic says it is the first British airline to allow passengers to make and receive mobile phone calls, text messages and emails in the air using GPRS. The service is available on new A330 aircraft flying from London to New York. Up to 20 aircraft will be equipped with the service by the end of the year.

It costs £1 ($1.60) to connect and 20 pence to send a text message.


Awed by auroras in Canada's Yukon territory

Sightings of the aurora borealis are elusive but sky-watchers in Canada's Yukon territory say a "solar maximum" - a peak in the cycle regulating the forces of the northern lights, in turn creating bigger energy discharges and throwing plasma streams into space - is tipped for the first half of next year.

"When these streams, or clouds, hit the Earth's magnetic fields, they get reflected and concentrate around the polar axles, resulting in visual reaction in the atmosphere - the aurora [and aurora australis]," says the president of Arctic Range Adventure, Felix Geithner. "[This] allows for more colourful, active and spectacular viewing, with the northern lights dancing across the open sky."

Arctic Range Adventure's viewing centre in Whitehorse has two wood-heated yurts and one tepee. Geithner, who lives year-round in the Yukon, has heard the northern lights while camping with dog teams. "Just before the lights appeared on the sky you could hear a tone, which could be described as a mix of whip, slash and somebody whistling."


A one-day northern lights viewing from Whitehorse costs from $C290 ($288) a person; an eight-day dog-sledding adventure costs $C3150.


Flight into history

New Zealand-born aviator Jean Batten undertook record-breaking solo flights for decades. In 1936, aged 27, Batten set a world record with a solo flight from England to New Zealand, an epic journey that will be retraced on a 21-day, 14-country tour aboard a classic DC3.

The founder of NZ Voyages, Mark Oremland, says the contemporary journey being planned will trace Batten's flight path with landings at Brindisi, Karachi, Longreach and Sydney, using a modified aircraft fitted with panoramic windows and comfortable seats. A flight speed of about 160 knots (modern aircraft fly at about seven kilometres higher and three times the speed) will allow passengers to enjoy views of a gradually changing landscape.

Three pilots (one of whom is the engineer), Oremland and a flight attendant will be on board and at landings the hotel accommodation chosen will be reminiscent of the times. Conditions on board will be more salubrious than those of Batten's single-engine monoplane. "We are proposing adventure rather than luxury [but] the plane is very comfortable inside and we will have noise-cancelling headphones and New Zealand sheepskins on the seats," Oremland says.

The journey costs €20,000 ($25,899) a person for all legs of the flight, accommodation, meals and transfers. Three- and four-day legs cost €1000 a day. The tour departs Lydd, Kent, on October 25.


One stop to Lisbon, Barcelona

Emirates launches daily flights to Lisbon and Barcelona next month. Flights to the Portuguese capital start on July 9 and to Barcelona on July 3. Emirates will fly three times daily from Sydney and Melbourne to Dubai, with daily onwards connections to Barcelona (from $1964 return) and Lisbon (from $2078 return).


Jewel in the crown

Guests at London's Milestone Hotel are digging under their pillows for a diamond pendant to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee (see page 24). For the rest of this month, five semi-precious stones will be planted in rooms at turn-down.

A stay in a deluxe king bedroom at the Milestone costs from $708 a couple a night and includes a picnic in Kensington Gardens.


Puppets, snowmen and acrobats

Illawarra Fly's new program, iFly 4 Kids, starts its NSW school holiday program with a "puppet petting zoo" of Australian megafauna by theatre company Erth on July 5-7. From September 26-29 it's snow season, with a tubing hill and snowball area. From January 10-14 a circus troupe will teach students how to swing safely from a trapeze.


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