Travellers' checks

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 June, 2012, 12:00am

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Island escape

If you're looking for a holiday destination far off the beaten track, where few have gone before, a place that has an interesting history and culture, and where the locals speak English, you might consider Norfolk Island (far right). This semi-autonomous Australian speck in the ocean is located in the South Pacific, 1,400 kilometres east of the mainland. From the late 18th to mid-19th centuries, the island was used as a British penal colony, and then as a new, ready-made home for the families of the mutineers of the Bounty fame after they outgrew their original home, Pitcairn Island. About a quarter returned to Pitcairn within a few years, but the ancestors of those who stayed comprise roughly half the island's population of about 2,400. It's a fascinating place of dramatic natural beauty, with almost no crime, a friendly population and intriguing 19th-century buildings. A visit to www.norfolkisland.com.au should whet the appetite of even the most jaded traveller. Accommodation can be booked at www.discovernorfolkisland.com, or you can book a flight and accommodation package from Australia at www.oxleytravel.com.au. The only flights to Norfolk Island are operated by Air New Zealand from Sydney, Brisbane (both twice a week) and Auckland (Sundays only). Through-flights via these cities from Hong Kong cannot be booked online, but you can book individual flights for separate sectors at www.airnewzealand.com.hk.

The direct approach

A stopover at Kunming Airport will not place highly on many Hong Kong travellers' to-do lists, but that's long been the most practical way to visit picturesque Lijiang, in Yunnan province. Now, it's possible to reach Lijiang in about 2?hours with Sichuan Airlines' thrice-weekly non-stop service to the city, which launched at the end of last month. Sichuan Airlines has yet - at the time of writing - to create an English-language website for online bookings, but that should change soon as the carrier is due to start flights between Chengdu and Vancouver, Canada, later this week. International hotel brands in Lijiang, all of which are no doubt drooling over the coming upsurge in Hong Kong arrivals, include Banyan Tree (below), Pullman and Crowne Plaza, but it's worth browsing sites such as Tripadvisor for interesting and much more reasonably priced smaller hotels and resorts.

Deal of the week

Although perhaps best known to foreigners as a winter skiing destination, the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido is just as popular with locals during the summertime, when they arrive in droves to admire the rolling lavender fields of Furano (bottom) and the pastoral splendour and almost cartoonish natural colours of nearby Biei. Flower-viewing season reaches its peak in June, July and August, and during these months a Furano Lavender Express train makes the two-hour trip from Sapporo three times a day. Cathay Pacific Holidays (www.cxholidays.com) is selling a bonus-night package to Sapporo (available until July 11) that includes four nights' hotel accommodation, which would work well with a three-day JR Hokkaido Rail Pass (www2. jrhokkaido.co.jp/global). One of these will get you unlimited train travel all over the island (including on the Lavender Express) for 15,000 yen (HK$1,500). Several hotels are on offer, but the one to go for is the Sapporo Tokyu Inn, for HK$6,870, as it's the only place that provides free round-trip airport transfers. The hotel is within walking distance of the train station (and two minutes from Ramen Alley). Note that unlike nationwide rail passes, those for just Hokkaido can be purchased inside Japan, but you'll need to travel further afield than Furano to get value for money.