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I'm escaping the winter chills this December and heading home to Australia for a few weeks so I may be a little biased, but there really is nothing like a summer down under. Sure there may be more beautiful beaches in Brazil, or better shopping in Paris, richer red wines in Italy and plenty of sport right here in the U.S., but for a combination of all these things and gorgeous weather to boot, you can't beat a summer in Australia or New Zealand.

I won't sugar coat it -- summer, particularly the Christmas/New Year period is peak season for airfares to Australasia, so bargains aren't usually as easy to come by. But once you pay your airfare, everything else will be less expensive thanks to a stronger US dollar (currently worth $1.34 Australian and $1.42 New Zealand) and the fact that tax is already included in the price of everything when you get there (so no having to do mental arithmetic to work out the final price).

There are still deals out there, especially if you hold off until February or March 2006, when in my humble opinion, the weather is at its absolute best and some of the best festivals and events take place.

Air Tahiti Nui (tel. 877/824-4846; www.airtahitinui-usa.com) has TORU airfares starting from $998 round-trip from Los Angeles to Sydney plus a $123 fuel surcharge or $1,198 from New York to Sydney round-trip plus a $138 fuel surcharge. These low prices actually include free stopovers in Tahiti and Auckland. These deals are available for sale until March 31, 2006 and are valid for departure from New York from January 20 through December, 2006. Travel departing New York between December 9, 2005 and January 19, 2006 incurs a surcharge of $400. A minimum stay of seven-days is required with a maximum stay of 30 days. Airport/government fees/taxes and of approximately $123 and a 9/11 security fee of $2.50 are additional.

Air New Zealand (tel. 800/262-1234; www.airnewzealand.com) flies to Auckland non-stop from San Francisco six times a week and from Los Angeles twice a day, every day. You can get to Auckland between February 1 and August 31, 2006 from as little as $910, Christchurch or Wellington from $996 or Queenstown from $1,065. These fares are available for sale until May 25, 2006, and although some embargo dates apply, there are no more weekend surcharges, fewer rules, no minimum stay, a maximum stay of one year and more flexibility. Air New Zealand has also simplified the policy for date changes and refund too. Book your trip early to get the best price and choice of dates. As an added bonus, these airfares allow you to stop enroute to New Zealand in the South Pacific when you fly between Los Angeles and Auckland - choose from Fiji, Tahiti, Cook Islands, Samoa or Tonga for $90, and if you prefer, stop on your return journey for $180. Have a stop in Auckland at no extra charge and you can fly into one city in New Zealand, plan your own tour around the countryside, and fly home from another city. Fees and taxes of us to $58 are additional.

Air Pacific (tel. 800/227-4446; www.airpacificusa.com/alldeals) currently has round-trip airfares from Honolulu to Sydney or Brisbane from $1,065 for travel from February 23 until May 31, 2006. Even during the peak season from now until February 22, 2006, fares start at $1,145. Round-trip air fare from Los Angeles to Sydney/Brisbane starts from $1,277 for travel from now until March 31, 2006. Add $100 for airfare to Melbourne. These airfares also allow passengers a stopover in Fiji in one direction. Taxes, fees and restrictions apply.

Round-trip airfare from Los Angeles to Auckland, New Zealand is priced from $1,127 for travel from now until March 31, 2006, or from Los Angeles to Christchurch for $1,327, or to Wellington from $1,267. These airfares also allow passengers a stopover in Fiji in one direction. Taxes, fees and restrictions apply. Tickets must be purchased/issued two weeks before travel date and no later than March 31, 2006. Although it is a little more expensive than at other times of the year, the Aussie AirPass from Qantas Airlines (tel. 800/227-4603; www.qantasusa.com) is still a great deal if you plan to visit a few cities whilst in Australia. Your international round-trip ticket to Australia from either Honolulu or Los Angeles plus three flights within Australia is priced from US$1,599 (plus taxes and charges) for travel from December 29 to 31, 2005 or January 17 to 31, 2006. The price is $1,699 for travel from January 1 to 16, 2005 but goes down to $1,299 from February 1 to April 30, 2006. These prices are for travel within the designated Zone 1 which includes Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Hobart, Adelaide, Brisbane, Gold Coast and Launceston. To use your Aussie AirPass for domestic flights to other cities like Cairns or Perth, incurs a high cost or $200 to $400 more.

For more information on Australia and New Zealand, visit the following websites: www.frommers.com/destinations/australia, www.frommers.com/destinations/newzealand,www.australia.com, www.newzealand.com/travel.

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