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Mixing It Up With Marsupials

By Andrea Sachs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 10, 2006

Q. We plan to be in the Australian Outback in March. Can you drive from Adelaide to Coober Pedy, then on to Ayers Rock? Are there fueling/eating places on the way?

Claire Nelan, Dagsboro, Del.

A. To explore all of Australia's Outback, you'd need months, but even those with limited vacation time can still see a sizable chunk of Oz's frontier. "The Outback is such a vast term," says Kristen Malaby, a Tourism Australia spokeswoman. "It's almost like Australia's back yard." Most of Australia's states have an outback region -- non-urban swaths covered with desert, cattle and kangaroos-- but the largest and best-known area is in the center of the country, from South Australia to the Northern Territory.

Various driving routes, from easy to adventurous, connect Adelaide to Ayers Rock. The 800-mile paved, or "sealed," route is a long, straight shot with occasional stretches of nothingness. For instance, the drive from Coober Pedy to Ayers Rock takes seven hours and is punctuated with marsupial sightings and silly road signs. (Malaby says to fuel up when the signs tell you to.) Conversely, the off-road "tracks" are dusty, rambling and mucky during their winter rains in June and July.

A third way is to mix up your route with paved and dirt roads, such as following Stuart Highway from Adelaide to Port Augusta, then onto Flinders Ranges, where you can pick up the Oodnadatta Track to Coober Pedy. Whichever route you take, drive by day to avoid collisions with nocturnal animals.

To break up the multi-day ride, Malaby suggests touring the Barossa or Clare Valley wine countries and Wilpena Pound in Flinders Ranges National Park, known for Aborigine sites and geological wonders. Overnight at a station, or working ranch, such as the Rawnsley Park Station, a sheep farm that overlooks Flinders. She also suggests stopping into such "small quirky towns in the heart of the Outback" as Parachilna, where the Prairie Hotel serves "feral food," including kangaroo and camel.

Info: Tourism Australia, 800-333-0262, http://www.australia.com/.

We're considering a winter pilgrimage to Western Maryland, near Cumberland. Can you recommend sights and accommodations?

Rob Thomas, Vienna

Western Maryland is only 2 1/2 hours -- and many landscapes -- by car from Washington. Allegany County, which receives less snow than other nearby regions, slows some in the wintertime, but the outdoors is always open. "In spring, summer and fall, there's more going on in the area," says Garry McConnell, a tourism consultant with the Allegany Tourist Office (800-425-2067, http://www.mdmountainside.com/).

Allegany County's history touches upon railroads, mining and glassmaking. Today Cumberland is more cultural than industrial, with museums and performing arts theaters. The C&O Canal and its 184-mile hiking and biking trail ends at Cumberland, and the Western Maryland Scenic Train chugs 32 miles round trip to Frostburg (runs until Dec. 17). For a full day of diversions, Rocky Gap State Park has hiking, fishing and such special events as a holiday light show (until Jan. 2). The Rocky Gap Lodge and Golf Resort (800-724-0828, http://www.rockygapresort.com/) sits in the park's foothills and has plenty of indoor (a spa) and outdoor (a golf course) amenities.

For more wintry attractions, travel about 45 minutes southwest to Garrett County. Wisp offers snowboarding, skiing and snow tubing, and nearby parks open their land to snowmobilers, snowshoers and cross-country skiers. For accommodations, the Wisp Resort Hotel & Conference Center (301-387-4911, http://www.skiwisp.com/lodging_wrh.htm) is close to these activities; and on blustery days, guests can indulge in the Sewickley Spa. Info: Garrett County Chamber of Commerce, 888-387-5237, http://www.garrettchamber.com/.

I want to visit New York's Upper East Side. Any lodging suggestions?

Nancy H. Johnson, Chantilly

The Upper East Side contains some of Manhattan's top attractions: Museum Mile, Madison Avenue shops and Central Park. Here are three hotels that may fit your needs:

· Courtyard by Marriott New York Manhattan/Upper East Side (410 E. 92nd St., 212-410-6777, http://www.nyccourtyarduppereastside.com/), near the East River. Winter rates from $199 per night, but look online for lower prices.

· Marmara Manhattan (301 E. 94th St., 212-427-3100, http://www.marmara-manhattan.com/), with sleek studios and suites. Rates from $269.

· Gracie Inn (502 E. 81st St., 212-628-1700, http://www.thegracieinn.com/), with studios with kitchenettes, private bath and free breakfast delivered to your room. Rates from $179.

For additional ideas, check Manhattan Getaways (212-956-2010, http://www.manhattangetaways.com/), which helps visitors book B&Bs and private furnished apartments; BedandBreakfast.com (800-462-2632, http://www.bedandbreakfast.com/); and NYC & Company (212-484-1200, http://www.nycvisit.com/).

Send queries by e-mail (travelqa@washpost.com) or U.S. mail (Travel Q&A, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071). Please include your name and town.

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