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Yes, it may be fall in Australia, at least through May, while it's spring here. From June through August Aussies experience winter, with the average temperature settling around 55°F. The north is warmer and more tropical, and the south is cooler with more rainfall, but nevertheless, still sunny. It doesn't quite sound like winter, though, does it? Regardless of temperature, it's a hot destination, from its burgeoning wine business, a growing consciousness of its own culinary power, its fun-loving reputation and, let's face it, the beauty of its landscape. Like many island nations, most of the population (seventy percent) lives in the ten largest cities, an indication that all that other terrain remains largely unspoiled.

Goway Travel Experiences (tel. 800-387-8850; www.goway.com) touts itself as "the way to go down under since 1970" and there are a number of specials, some geared toward families, with prices and departures from the U.S. and Canada for 8-, 13-, 14- and 15-day adventures. The 8-day "Kangaroos and Koalas" package allows for a day of travel, arrival in Sydney, with a morning coffee cruise and the afternoon off. Also included is a guided walking tour of the historic Rocks district of Sydney, a trip to the Featherdale Wildlife Park (hence koalas and kangaroos), and a visit to Sydney Aquarium. The price for two adults and one child, departing from Los Angeles between June 1 and August 26, is $4,100 -- a per-family rate, not per-person rate. It's based on mid-week travel (Monday through Wednesday) in economy class and includes airfares and accommodations and the aforementioned tours.

Or opt for the 15-day "Great Aussie Outdoors" a trip whose costs start from $6,872 per family (one child, two adults) and $7,604 (two children, two adults). The trip itself starts in Melbourne for four nights; the first day features a full-day tour of the Great Ocean Road, which runs along southwest Victoria coastline and includes the Otways rainforest, replete with waterfalls and giant tree ferns, Surf Coast, and the famous Twelve Apostles, a series of a dozen eroding limestone rock stacks along the waters of the Southern Ocean and in Port Campbell National Park. Tons of opportunities for surfing, snorkeling, and exploring abound. From Melbourne head to Adelaide, a city that was once renowned for its disproportionately large number of churches and is close to the Barossa Valley wine region. The rest of the trip involves a hop to Kangaroo Island, and then to Sydney for several days, with stops at the Sydney Aquarium and Featherdale Wildlife Park. There are several others offered for families, and children will receive the "Happy Vegemites" travel package, so named for the country's national spread (they put it on everything), which is made from a yeast extract. A disposable camera, a selection of Aussie stickers, backpack, travel journal, colored pencils and, of course, a jar of vegemite, are all included. All of these deals are available from other U.S. cities for additional fees upon inquiry.

Goway is also running some airfare specials at www.goway.com/tours/ss_us.html that are good for travel between May 1 and June 14. Fly Los Angeles to either Sydney/Melborne/Brisbane from $791; Los Angeles to Cairns from $968; Los Angeles to Darwin from $1,168; and Los Angeles to Perth from $1,268. All rates are round-trip, per person, must be booked by April 30, and do not include taxes and fees.

Newmans South Pacific Vacations (tel. 800/342-1956; www.newmansvacations.com) offers a special price for departures from Los Angeles -- from $1,399 per person, to the capital Sydney and very hip Melbourne, four nights in a three-star hotel in each city, during the low season, April 26 through June 17 and July 19 through August 26. For travelers wishing to upgrade their sleeping quarters, the rates are $1,549 per person for a four-star hotel (Mercure Sydney Hotel and Mel Mercure Grand on Swanson), and $1,799 for a five star hotel; Sydney Harbor Marriot and Melbourne Sofitel Hotel. Fly Qantas Air on economy-class, but taxes and fees are not included. The deal is advertised from Los Angeles with caveats mandating a Monday-Wednesday departure. Add-on fares are possible from other cities; tack on an additional $375 if you're departing from New York and $40 if you must depart between Thursday and Sunday. If you want to do your own thing, that's great -- this is a strictly no-frills hotel and airfare deal, but there are sightseeing packages you can add on from an extra $170; which includes round-trip hotel/airport transfers and a half-day tour of Melbourne and half day tour of Sydney.

Australia is gaining an international reputation for its wines, in particular the bold, robust flavors of its shiraz; the cheap, tasty, Yellow Tail has been the continent's wine success story of the couple of years. Oenophiles can opt for their Wine and Wonders Tour, (www.newmansvacations.com/specials/wineandwonderstour.html) a near-two week excursion that starts at $2892 per person, based on double occupancy, during April 26 through June 17, and July 19-August 26. You'll tour the best wine regions in Australia with stops in Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne. Winery tours include Hunter valley Vintage, Barossa Valley Wine, Yarra Valley; outdoorsy tours include those of wildlife, Kangaroo Island highlights, the latter complete with a cruise. It's a 10-night/13-day tour (you spend a day or so in the air -- hence the difference, as you cross the International dateline and lose a day)

Both Goway (www.goway.com/downunder/australia/g_q_airpass_us.html) and the California-based Newmans Vacations (www.newmansvacations.com/specials/qantasairpass.html) are running some reduced airfares, in conjunction with Quantas. A Qantas AirPass is available, and the rates are designated by zones: zone one, for example, includes Sydney, Melbourne, Tasmania, up through Adelede and costs $999 for that area during the low season. Your international round-trip airfare is included, plus up to three domestic flights within the country. If you fly from Los Angeles or Honolulu, say, and land in Melbourne but also want to experience the whole country and go to Broome or Perth (zone 3, $1,399) or Alice Springs or Cairns(zone 2, $1,199) you pay the fare for the most expensive zone you traverse. For departures from San Francisco, San Jose or San Diego, add $50; Denver and Dallas, add $220, and for East Coast locales such as New York, Newark and Washington, D.C., add $300. These low-season rates are good from April 26 through June 17; and July 19 through August 26. There are also some departure day restrictions based upon where you are flying to and from, so it's best to consult the site or call for more information.

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