The Real Deal: Nine nights' accommodations, six-day car rental, and a wine-tasting tour for $1,675 per person — including taxes.
When: April 1-Sept. 30, 2008.
The fine print: Included are a midsize automatic rental car for six days with unlimited mileage, private airport transfer on departure, five breakfasts, a wine-tasting class and a tour of Hunter Resort Wine School, hotel taxes, and rental-car taxes. Based on double occupancy; single supplement is $1,560. To enter Australia, U.S. passport holders must obtain an Electronic Travel Authority, equivalent to a visa (just without the stamp), which is valid for up to three months. It can be purchased here for Aus$20 (about US$17). Refer to this code when booking: SWSP5245. Read these guidelines before you book any Real Deal.
Book by: No deadline; based on availability.
Contact: Swain Tours, 800/227-9246, swaintours.com.
Why it's a deal: In comparison, nightly rack rates start from $177 at the Hunter Resort, $197 at the Four Points Sheraton, and $632 at Lilianfels. When you do the math, booking two nights at Lilianfels, three nights at the Hunter Resort, and four nights at the Sheraton on your own adds up to a total of $2,583, which is about $1,291 per person. For an additional $384 per person, Swain Tours will cover nine nights' accommodations as well as a car rental for six days, a tour of the wine country with a tasting class (list price is about $23 per person), and airport transportation upon departure. You also get the benefit of 24/7 access to Swain Tours' local offices in Australia — enabling travelers to add optional tours, get restaurant recommendations, and resolve any problems or complications.
Trip details: The Sublime Wine and Sydney package includes nine nights' accommodations divided between the Blue Mountains, Hunter Valley, and Sydney, plus, a six-day car rental with unlimited mileage from Budget.
After clearing customs in Sydney, you'll pick up your rental car and drive for about two hours to the Blue Mountains for a two-night stay at Lilianfels Blue Mountains Resort and Spa, a Victorian-style country house. Aside from spacious guest rooms, the resort features a spa with a swimming pool, a lounge for tea and refreshments, and two restaurants. Lilianfels, surrounded by two acres of landscaped gardens, is adjacent to the Blue Mountain's main attraction: three giant rock formations known as the Three Sisters.
Named after the bluish haze that appears to envelop the sandstone formations when seen from a distance, the Blue Mountains are a plateau of eroded gorges that rise close to 4,000 feet above sea level. You'll be free to explore the untamed mountainous landscape, which is teeming with wildlife.
Noteworthy attractions include Wentworth Falls, a mix of cascades and free-falling water, and Jenolan Caves, limestone formations and underground rivers that are technically part of the Oberon area but are easily reached from the Blue Mountains. You'll also discover picturesque towns and villages chock-full of cafés, shops, and art galleries.
After two nights at Lilianfels, you'll drive north for about two more hours to the heart of the Hunter Valley, Australia's oldest wine-growing and producing region; the industry dates back to 1832. The 35-room, family-owned Hunter Resort will be your home base for the next three nights. The 70-acre property boasts a collection of vineyards, a wine school, a cooking school, and the Blue Tongue Boutique Brewery, which makes six kinds of beer.
A highlight of the trip is a two-hour educational tour of the resort's vineyard, crusher and winery. In addition to covering the wine-making process, the tour also includes a wine-tasting tutorial, during which you'll sample a selection of wines and learn how to blend them yourself. Upon completion of the tour, participants will receive a personalized certificate of wine appreciation.
Then it's back to Sydney, approximately two hours by car from Hunter Valley. You'll stay four nights at the 630-room Four Points Darling Harbour Hotel in a "city side" room, which, as the name implies, overlooks downtown Sydney. Note that the Four Points is offering a special promotion through September 30, 2008 that will let you upgrade to a room with a view of Darling Harbour at no additional cost, if space allows.
The Four Points, the largest hotel in Australia, is near Pitt Street Mall, the Queen Victoria Building, and Chinatown. Other popular Sydney sites include the iconic Opera House, Harbour Bridge, trendy Oxford Street, Woolloomooloo Finger Wharf, Surry Hills, and the National Maritime Museum.
Swain Tours also offers an array of optional tours, if you have the inclination and the budget, such as a coffee cruise along Sydney Harbour ($40 per person) or a city tour with a lunch cruise ($135 per person).
If you don't feel like embarking on the long flight home just yet, you have the option to extend your stay in Sydney for $245 per person per night.
For more tips on what to do in the area, visit the official tourism Web sites for Australia and New South Wales. Before you go, check the latest exchange rate, the local time, and the weather forecast at BudgetTravel.com.
Getting there: According to a recent search on Kayak, the lowest round-trip fares to Sydney in early April were: $1,296 from L.A. (Qantas), $1,385 from Seattle (multiple carriers), $1,457 from New York City (Qantas), $1,468 from Chicago and Houston (multiple carriers), and $1,515 from Miami (multiple carriers).
Summer fares are slightly higher, with June departures staring from $1,566 from L.A. (Qantas), $1,720 from New York City (Qantas), $1,766 from Seattle (United), $1,847 from Houston (United), $1,868 from Chicago (multiple carriers), and $1,965 from Miami (multiple carriers).