Bargains and bright ideas

Belinda Jackson rounds up a wide range of escapades for shoppers, temple lovers, volcano hoppers and film fans.

Where to? Cook Islands.

The experience: The islands' first "Gathering Holiday".

When? March 16-22.

Pack for: Islander glam.

Who goes? Single travellers aged 28-45ish wanting to broaden their social network.

Highlights: A mix of fun, relaxation and a few healthy activities: 4WD rallies, starlit cinema, cooking schools, a lagoon cruise, stand-up paddle boarding and a speed-friending event (like dating, but without compulsory romance). There's also time to hit the local nightclubs and markets. The "donate time" program encourages travellers to spend a little time in the islands' schools reading to local kids, to give back to the local community. Group size averages about 20 people.

Watch the clock: It's a six-hour direct flight from Sydney to Rarotonga with Air New Zealand, departing every Saturday night and crossing the dateline to arrive at 5.30am, Saturday. 13 24 76,

Costs: $2399 a person, twin share, for six nights, most meals, activities and transfers.


For more information: (07) 5408 0153,,

Where to? Singapore.

The experience: Larging it up in one of the world's most iconic hotels.

Pack for: City luxe.

Who goes? History lovers and hardened shoppers.

Highlights: A three-night stay in a Palm Court suite at Raffles Hotel Singapore (established in 1887) is the last word in colonial charm. The offer includes breakfast in the Tiffin Room, dinner in Raffles Grill, personalised bathrobes, spa treatments, a bottle of 125th anniversary Billecart-Salmon champagne and airport transfers in a Bentley. There's also a voucher for one complimentary night's stay, a butler on call 24 hours, and a history tour by the hotel's resident historian. The hotel is surrounded by shopping malls, and the famed 2.2-kilometre Orchard Road strip is just a hop-skip away.

Watch the clock: It's bang-on eight hours from Sydney to Singapore with Singapore Airlines (, Scoot (, Qantas (, British Airways ( and Virgin Australia (

Costs: From $3871 a person for three nights. +800 1 7233537, Quote "Celebrating Romance".

For more information:

Where to? Central Java, Indonesia.

The experience: Five-day "Cultured Treasures & Temples" tour.

Pack for: High-end luxury and natural beauty.

Who goes? Natural beauty and culture buffs.

Highlights: Borobudur, the world's largest, absolutely breathtaking, Buddhist sanctuary, dating from the ninth century, and nearby Prambanan, a Hindu temple complex from about the same era. The backdrop is of mountains and volcanoes - visited at sunrise and sunset - including the "home of the gods", the volcanic Dieng Plateau at an altitude of 2000 metres. Stay at Amanjiwo Resort or Plataran Borobudur Resort & Spa to immerse yourself in the local beauty.

Watch the clock: Garuda Indonesia flies daily from Sydney to Yogyakarta via Denpasar (7hr 15min, though expect a Balinese layover). 1300 365 330,

Costs: From $US1670 ($1604) a person, twin share, for four nights. Includes private transfers and all sightseeing.

For more information: 1300 851 800,

Where to? Tanna Island, Vanuatu.

The experience: Volcano hopping.

Pack for: Five-star adventure at three-star prices.

Who goes? Those keen on white sand and big fireworks.

Highlights: Get up close to Tanna Island's Mount Yasur volcano. Easily accessible, the volcano was seen by Captain Cook when he visited in 1774 and is most active during the wet season, from late February to April. Stay for four nights in an ocean view room at the White Grass Ocean resort in Tanna and take a volcano safari tour, then spend three nights in Port Vila to soak up the turquoise waters of the south Pacific.

Watch the clock: Air Vanuatu flies from Sydney to Port Vila daily (3hr 25min), and under an hour from Port Vila to Tanna. 1300 780 737,

Costs: From $1873 a person for seven nights. Includes flights ex-Sydney. Book by February 15 for travel until March 26 and between April 23 and June 20.

For more information: 1300 370 792,

Where to? New Zealand.

The experience: Hobbit hunting on the North and South islands.

Pack for: Middle-earth adventure in four-star style.

Who goes? Lord of the Rings and Hobbit fans.

Highlights: This 10-day tour is led by one of the dwarves from the Hobbit trilogy. The tour starts in Auckland and finishes in Christchurch, visiting the Hobbiton film set in Matamata, as well as Wellington (aka Wellywood) and dramatic film locations, including Mount Victoria and the uplifting scenery of Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapo.

Watch the clock: It takes three hours to fly from Sydney to Auckland with Air New Zealand (13 24 76,, Emirates (1300 303 777,, Jetstar (13 15 38,, LAN (1800 558 129, and Virgin Australia (13 67 89, It also takes three hours to fly from Christchurch to Sydney with Air New Zealand and Virgin Australia.

Costs: From $4790 a person for 10 days. Includes flight from Wellington to Dunedin, guides and some meals. 1300 888 225,

For more information:

Where to? Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The experience: Bargain hunting and tower climbing.

Pack for: Pounding the pavement.

Who goes? Hardcore shoppers.

Highlights: All of Asia knows KL packs a punch in the shopping stakes. The malls are glamorous and airconditioned - as befits the humidity - and they range from the world's top fashion labels to fabulous local shoe designers, exceptional kids' wear and great electronic goods. Stay for four nights and pay for only three (your first bargain before you even arrive!) at the four-star Parkroyal Hotel Kuala Lumpur in the compact city centre, close to the Petronas Twin Towers and the Bukit Bintang shopping strip.

Watch the clock: It takes 7½ hours to fly from Sydney to Kuala Lumpur with Malaysia Airlines ( and Air Asia (

Costs: From $349 a person, twin share, for four nights. Includes 20 per cent off spa treatments and in the restaurant, airport transfers and a half-day city tour. Book until May 31 for travel between April 1 and May 31. 1300 747 400,

For more information: (02) 9299 4441,