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April is your final chance to discover the fantastic Southern Alps of New Zealand before winter sets in.

     Print Edition: April 17, 2011

Highlands down under
April is your final chance to discover the fantastic Southern Alps of New Zealand before winter sets in.

South of the equator, the world gets a little upside down for us northerners. We almost always forget that when we're baking in the heat, the southern hemisphere is going through winter. This is worth keeping in mind if you love mountains, because New Zealand has some of the most spectacular ranges in that hemisphere.

The so-called Southern Alps aren't high by Himalayan standards-Aoraki, also known as Mount Cook is only 3754 m- but as they soar up majestically from the low-lying plains, the 470-odd km long range looks stunning. Neatly dividing the south island into two, the southern end of the range ends in spectacular fjords on the Antarctic Ocean.

The Ball Pass trek is a short but hard one that passes right under the south ridge of Aoraki, at a height of 2130 metres. The scenery here is quite spectacular as all but one of New Zealand's highest peaks are clustered in this area. New Zealand is famous for its supremely furnished trekking huts, so you don't need to carry much by way of provisions on the trek.

The trek starts after driving from Lake Tekapo to the road-head near the Tasman glacier, and then a pleasant hike up the Ball ridge to the Caroline Hut, situated spectacularly just opposite the Caroline face of Aoraki. The next day is given over to learn some basic tenets of mountaineering and this crash course is capped off by summiting the Kaitaki peak above the Ball Glacier for some great views of the area, as well as exploring one of the many large crevasses that streak across the glacier.

The third day is spent crossing the Pass on the way down to the roadhead at Mount Cook village. The trek starts with a rapid ascent up exposed ridges right to the Pass, which needs to be crossed early in the morning before the sun melts the hard ice and snow. This is the heart of this heavily glaciated region and views include those of Aoraki, Mt Sefton, the Hooker and Mueller Glaciers and the Copland Pass. The descent from the pass over hard ice is a tricky one, for which you will need to use crampons.

The best thing about travelling here is that the trekking operators take care of all the required gear. Alpine Recreation from New Zealand is a top outfitter which organises all-inclusive treks for NZ$980 (Rs 33,400) per person.
For further information, check out www.alpinerecreation.com.

Summer in the land of midnight sun

There's just one rule of Finnish summer: get out. While Finland is the perfect picture-postcard destination, complete with reindeers and a homegrown Santa during winter, summer is a hedonistic experience with unending days and balmy weather. To experience the true Finnish propensity for eccentricity in summertime, visit the town of Kuopio in the aptly named Lake District.

The heavily forested landscape with its incredible 1,88,000 lakes becomea the playground for locals. For instance, there's the lumberjack show where a logger walks on floating logs in a lake, as onlookers cheer, particularly when he falls in. Finnish Lapland also is a completely different world during this time. Without the snow, the cross-country skiing routes become jogging tracks, and short downhill ski slopes are used by fairground cars. Here a late-night climb to the scenic summit of Luosto Fell, 100 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle is a great way to experience the midnight sun (from mid-May through mid-July). And when you've had enough of perpetual sunchine, check into a sauna for a perfect day's wrap-up.
For more information on activities and stays log on to www.visitfinland.com.

Skinny bridge
A maze of canals and bridges divide Amsterdam into a complex network of roads, tracks and pathways, best navigated on foot or on a bike. Of its 1281 bridges, the Magere Brug or the 'Skinny Bridge', with its old Dutch design, is the most popular. Sitting on the Amstel River, the bridge is said to have been built by the Mager sisters (Mager is a Dutch word for skinny) in 17th century. The bridge was so narrow that two people couldn't walk together. But in 1871, the original span was replaced with a wider bridge for pedestrians' comfort.
To know more about tours and stays in Amsterdam, visit www.holland.com

Europe beckons
If its summer, then its got to be Europe. Especially if you're going for trips up to 19 days long with a 50 per cent discount. That's what the travel portal Cox & Kings is offering to tourists from India. All of their Europe packages are being offered with great dollops of sweetners. Thus you get the 19 D/18 N European Splendours with a 25 per cent cash back offer, or the 11 D/10 N European Whirl with a 50 per cent cash back offer. There are straightforward discounts too, like the 45 per cent off on the 11 D/10 N European Discovery tour. Too good a chance to let go.
For more details check out ww.coxandkings.com.

Cliff notes
With it's glacier-carved peaks and fjords, Patagonia remains one of the wildest and most spectacular regions on Earth. The barren and weather-beaten Patagonian Andes is home to some of the world's greatest treks and trails that take you through pristine forests to the rims of glaciers, under granite monoliths and over rickety suspension bridges. Not an adrenaline junkie? Then cosy up in an estancia (country estate) where you can learn to ride with the resident gauchos; fish in stunning mountain scenery; or just sit back and take in the mesmerising expanse of Argentine wilderness. And now is the best time to visit there, as TUI has come up with an amazing 12-night/13-day package to Patagonia starting from $2060 (Rs 93,381) for two and is valid till the end of July, 2011.
For more information on itinerary and inclusions, log on to www.tui.in Europe Beckons

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