1. Canada’s National Parks
Why they’re hot? They’re free and ready to party!
Canada’s national parks are spectacular, from the dinky 15 sq km Georgian Bay Islands National Park to Alberta’s vast Wood Buffalo NP – the size of Denmark. But their scale is rivalled by the variety of geography available, taking in snow-swept tundra (Wapusk NP, Manitoba), Rocky Mountains (Jasper NP) and the dense old-growth rainforest of British Columbia (Pacific Rim NP). And to top it off, admission will be free during 2017, to mark 150 years of the Canadian Confederation: the perfect reason to find yourself celebrating in ‘the Great White North’.
From capital Ottawa, head south to Ontario’s Thousand Islands NP and grab a kayak to explore the titular chain of granite that pierces the St Lawrence River. Further west, Bruce Peninsula NP lies along the western shoreline of Georgian Bay, with fine trails and a marine park to explore, while Point Pelee NP is home to some of Canada’s best birdwatching. Alternatively, Mont-Temblant NP in Quebec boasts one of the most dramatic via ferrata on Earth. With so much choice on offer, this is a party you won’t want to miss.
2. Patagonia, Chile & Argentina
Why it’s hot? It’s 40 years since Bruce Chatwin explored the region, and you can too with new flights
Back in 1977, Bruce Chatwin shook travel-writing with the release In Patagonia. Hitting readers like a hard shot of pisco sour to the soul, four decades on, travellers still cling to tattered copies, as ripe a glimpse into Patagonia’s history, people and myths as anything since. So what better time to follow in his footsteps – especially with the launch of direct flights to Santiago, Chile?
Stand on the beaches of Argentina’s Puerto Madryn, as Chatwin did, where Welsh pioneers first landed in 1865 and continue to Trevelin, the archetypal green valley the settlers sought. Track Ruta40, meeting gauchos and stopping at estandas (ranches) en route; visit Mylodon Cave, where Chatwin sought his mythical sloths, in sight of the white-dusted peaks of Chile’s Torres del Paine NP; and cross into ‘Fireland’ (Tierra del Fuego NP).
But don’t stick to the book: this is a place to forge your own adventure, exploring sub-polar magellan forests, whale-rich seas and sweeping glaciers. Chatwin would heartily approve.
Australians call Queensland ‘The Sunshine State’ for good reason – with 300 sun-filled days a year, it’s the spiritual home of the Aussie beach holiday, with thousands of swimmable areas dotting its breathtaking coastline. Stretching nearly 7,000 kilometres, Queensland’s coast is only just shy of the distance between New York and Los Angeles! From its southern cosmopolitan shoreline where you’ll find the international playground of the Gold Coast, to the tropical northern extremities of the shimmering Cairns beaches, and the chic and stylish beachside attractions of Noosa and the Sunshine Coast, there are countless activities to experience and fabulous towns to explore, all set against a backdrop of brilliant days, balmy nights and a deeply entrenched beach culture.
Diving into the Great Barrier Reef
While many may extol the virtues of her pretty shores, others will argue that the real star of Queensland is actually just off her coast. A visit to this northeastern state simply wouldn’t be complete without a dip into one of the great natural wonders of the world – the Great Barrier Reef, home not just to some of the world’s best diving and snorkelling, but also more than 900 islands some of the best luxury resorts in the country. No matter how many images you’ve seen or stories you’ve heard, nothing compares to a personal encounter with this spectacular miracle of nature. Stretching some 2,300 glittering kilometres up the Queensland coastline, from the town of Bundaberg to virtually the tip of Cape York, the Great Barrier Reef is world-renowned as the only single living structure visible from space. Come November, the entire Great Barrier Reef erupts into life with spawning coral. This usually happens on the weekend after the full moon, and it’s an amazing sight to behold, wherever on the reef you happen to be.
As one of die world’s largest coral reef systems, the Great Barrier Reef is home to thousands of marine species, including dugongs, turtles, dolphins, whales, more than 1,500 species of fish and 4,000 types of molluscs. Not just restricted to underwater critters, there are also about 200 species of bird dial thrive (and depend) on the reef for survival. Its sheer size means there are virtually dozens of different ways to experience this incredible wonder, with tour operators operating in towns up and down the Queensland coast (including Bundaberg, Airlie Beach, Townsville and Cairns). You can fly overhead and sail directly on top of it, or even sleep on it – yes, sleep on it – if you like.
But snorkelling or diving those clear turquoise depths offers a magic all of its own, giving you an intimate look at the kaleidoscopic colours, unbelievable array of marine life and crystal clear waters which stretch seemingly into infinity. In some parts of the reef you can dive with green turtles or manta rays, while others offer the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to swim with rare dwarf minke whales. Be sure to tick off your scavenger list of the reefs Great 8: giant clams, turtles, down fish, manta ray, potato cod, Maori wrasse, sharks and whales. Fat, friendly potato cod appear every day at the famous Cod Hole, expecting treats from visiting divers. The coral here is arguably some of the reef’s best, too.
Want a truly unique experience? How about a dive into a shipwreck? The historical SS Yongala shipwreck has become the adopted home of hugely colourful marine life, and is definitely something to add on to your bucket list. Get here by boat from Townsville, or through various other day trips available for charter.
Amangiri, Utah, USA (above)
Blending into the desert and overlooking the stark beauty of flat-topped rocks, Amangiri (“peaceful mountain”) opened in Utah’s Grand Circle in 2009. It’s flanked by five national parks and the largest Native American reservation in the US, but Aman’s 600-acre site is a remarkable attraction itself, with just 34 suites – most with pools – and a 2,322 sq m spa specialising in Navajo healing techniques.
Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita, Nayarit, Mexico
This slice of Mexican indulgence, 45 minutes from Puerto Vallarta and overlooked by the peaks of the Sierra Madre, ticks all the Four Seasons boxes: two golf courses, a yacht, a tranquil spa, golden beaches and lavish casita-style villas. There’s a cool shack bar on Las Cuevas beach and the one-of-a-kind tequila tour involves a trip in a private helicopter – well, when in Mexico…
On a secluded peninsula near Florianopolis, southern Brazil, offering views of the Emerald Coast and a ridge of Atlantic rainforest, you’ll find a clutch of oyster farms and this hidden resort with 25 cabanas and 24-hour breakfasts. Paddle out to a tiny island bar for an ice-cold Caipirinha, sail around the bay to sample fresh shellfish, or simply kick back and enjoy some jungle opulence.
Foreign visitors per year: 1 million
Main town: Hobart
Major industries: forestry, mining, agriculture, tourism
Unit of currency: Australian dollar (A$)
Cost index: entry to MONA A$20 (US$18.75), cheese plate at Jam Packed Cafe at Henry Jones Art Hotel A$16 (US$15), Bronze Pass for Port Arthur Historic Site A$35 (US$32.80), Attic Room at the Islington Hotel, Hobart A$395 (US$370)
Wild and dramatic, cultured and quirky, isolated yet accessible – Australia’s island state, nestled comfortably at the southeastern base of Australia, is intrinsic to the nation’s story. Van Diemen’s Land (as Tasmania was christened by white settlers) was home to some of the first convict ships to land in Australia, and the tragic, harrowing and haunting tales of those arrivals permeate the state. The Port Arthur Historic Site, a former penal colony, serves as a beautiful and disquieting reminder of the region’s brutal past.
However, modern Tasmania has emancipated itself from wallowing in the past and adopted a fresh, hip and inclusive attitude sparked by the brilliant revival of its now super-cool waterfront capital, Hobart, and the development of an eclectic year-long events calendar.
Offering some of Australia’s most diverse, remote and wild outdoor experiences, Tasmania abounds in natural splendour. Whether it’s exploring the quiet, eerie grandeur of Cradle Mountain, bravely traversing the mighty Franklin River – home to the state’s dark forested heart, or stumbling upon the breathtaking beaches that make up the Bay of Fires, the state contains a lifetime’s worth of adventures.
In 2015, Tasmania opened the second stage of Australia’s premier coastal bushwalking experience, the Three Capes Track. This stage will link Denman’s Cove, opposite Port Arthur, with Cape Huay, via 35km of redeveloped walking track which take in some of the stunning sea cliffs of the Tasman National Park, where white-breasted sea eagles soar above the ocean. One of the largest projects of its kind to be undertaken anywhere in the world, once the third stage is completed the track will offer walkers a multiday bushwalking and boating experience which can be taken independently or with a guided tour operator.
Mona foma (festival of music and art) kicks off Tasmania’s event calendar in style every January, when an Eminent Artist in Residence joins former Violent Femmes bassist, Brian Ritchie, in delivering Australia’s most eclectic cultural festival.
Brightening the darker winter months from April to August, the Lumina Festival umbrellas over 100 cultural, food and wine events.
Hungry? Hit Hobart’s waterfront across New Year’s Eve week for the Taste Festival and sample the Apple Isle’s best seafood, wine and cheese.
From around 29 December the sleek vessels competing in the annual Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race start arriving into Hobart’s Salamanca Wharf.
The diversity of offerings from Tasmania’s plate may require multiple helpings. Descend the spiraled staircase of Hobart’s uber-trendy subterranean MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) located in the belly of the Moorilla Winery to discover the treasures within.
Explore one of the world’s most significant temperate rainforests on a multiday trek through the Tarkine Wilderness. Watch sea birds take flight as you sea-kayak at dusk in Coles Bay (bordering popular Freycinet National Park).
You can’t escape it – the debate over logging and the economy it supports versus the conservation and preservation of the pristine Tasmanian wilderness is a hot topic on the island. Everyone you talk to will have a strong and passionate opinion on the subject.
The Tassie food scene is a gourmet’s paradise, best exemplified by the diversity of produce found in the wilds of Bruny Island. The isolation and stunning coastal scenery of this island in the state’s southeast make it the perfect escape from the rat race, but it’s the artisanal produce that can be sourced here that elevates it to must-go. Whether it’s getting a frisky fill of oysters at Get Shucked Oyster Farm, downing a few glasses of pinot noir at Australia’s most southern winery, or gorging on freshly picked berries from the local berry farm, there’s no better place to taste Tassie on a plate.
The gothic grandeur of Australia’s oldest continually functioning brewery, the Cascade Brewery in South Hobart, never fails to draw a gasp on first sight. Ominously stretching towards the sky, it’s a structure that suggests the setting of a terrifying horror film rather than the reality, the Willy Wonka-esque home of one of Australia’s favourite adult brews.
Part of Australia’s charm is that it is a relatively new country and, as such, its cities have changed in tune with the pace of modern life. This is especially true of Melbourne where you can shop in independent boutiques, hop to the beach for sunbathing, then catch the hottest local band at the coolest live music venue all in one day.
If you’re going down under to see out the winter with some warmer weather, take in these five highlights on your Australian adventure.
If you’re looking to get an idea of the city’s layout from above, there’s no better place to do it than from the Southern Hemisphere’s highest viewing platform. Take it one step further by venturing out to The Edge: a box made entirely of glass that looks directly down onto the city.
Unlock the real secrets of Melbourne by roaming the side alleys and laneways by foot. Here, you’ll discover everything from the irresistible aromas of good coffee and gourmet outlets that tempt you to Degraves Street and Centre Place, to the funky boutiques and stores around Little Collins Street. There’s no way of knowing what’s around the corner until you uncover it for yourself!
From the grandeur of the National Gallery of Victoria to the humble showcase of emerging artists at the alternative public art space Mailbox 141, Melbourne is a treasure trail for art. You can also scope out innovative new photographers at the Centre for Contemporary Photography and see daring conceptual work at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art.
The price of hiring a car to drive on the Great Ocean Road will be repaid tenfold with some of the most amazing scenery and sunsets you’ll ever see. Stretching over 150 miles, the route offers staggering vistas.
Melbournians love their music gigs, so plan to take in a few bands while you’re out here. Haunts include the Prince Bandroom, ensconced in the Prince of Wales Hotel, and Howler, the trendy warehouse-turned-live-entertainment space.
Trust the Australians to make the best out of a potential environmental problem into a kickass festival to be enjoyed by the masses. The Darwin Beer Can Regatta was born out of an attempt to clean up litter in and around Darwin, when co-founders of the festival, Lutz Frankenfeld and Paul Rice-Chapman had the idea of using discarded beer cans to build a working, motorised boat.
Since 1974, the Darwin Beer Can Regatta has been a local and international favourite with festival goers for the spectacle of beer can boats floating in Port Darwin at Mindil Beach. The competition has seen some remarkable can-struction of boats that range from one to 12 metres in length. Races last through the morning and even see children taking part with soft drink can boats. On the beach, join in drier fun with sandcastle building, tug-of-wars, iron person competitions, novelty hat contests and thong (flip flops) throwing competitions.
Adding to the festival atmosphere is the Mindil Beach Sunset Market. Food is the main attraction here and hail from far-flung corners of the world. Find quality Asian cuisine, as well as South American and European fare. Apart from food, the market also has a number of stalls dedicated to local handmade goods, ranging from jewellery, clothes, and even Aboriginal artefacts.
Make sure to make your way to Darwin’s national parks too. Litchfield National Park and Kakadu National Park require a drive out but the wildlife and splendid scenes of nature are unparalleled to anything else in the Top End.
This year’s Darwin Beer Can Regatta will be held on 17 July from 10am to 5pm at Mindil Beach. Participating as a spectator is free.
Qantas (qantas.com) flies direct from Singapore to Darwin International Airport daily. Malaysia Airlines only flies direct from Kuala Lumpur thrice weekly. To get to Mindil Beach, rent a car from the airport to make the hour-long drive. There are various international car rental chains available, including Avis (from US$62 per day) and Hertz (from US$101 per day).
For immediate access to Mindil Beach, stay at SKYCITY Darwin. The beachfront hotel and resort is just a short walk from Mindil Beach Sunset Market and near the city centre. Onsite facilities also include spectacular pools, fine dining restaurants and a casino (from US$153 per night for Deluxe Room).
Nestled in 20.000 verdant sub-tropical hectares of ancient Gcndwana rainforest in the Lamington National Park, just behind the Gold Coast, you’ll find the award-winning O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat Villas & Lost World Spa. This magical place has beckoned travellers from all over the world since it first opened its doors in 1926. On a serious quest for indulgent “us time” we could think of no better location to spend a two-day romantic sojourn.
After a late Friday afternoon check-in at the main retreat we were directed to an enclave of 48 private, luxurious eco-villas, each offering a rainforest or valley view. With fresh, modern and comfortable decor, a full kitchen and double bedroom with en suite, our villa was a luxurious home away from home. We made a beeline for our balcony (complete with Jacuzzi) to savour the glorious sunset as we enjoyed complimentary chocolate-dipped strawberries and sparkling wine.
The retreat’s main dining room is the heart of the resort. Here, guests can indulge in hearty country breakfasts and delicious dinners prepared by the head chef and his team. The O’Reilly’s Mountain Cafe is the place to enjoy lunch, while The Rainforest Bar (open daily from 4pm) serves light dinner and/or pre-dinner drinks.
For something truly spectacular, be sure to pre-arrange a sunset outing to Moonlight Crag: a specially built cantilevered deck overlooking the Lost World and western McPherson Ranges. We looked out, mesmerised, glass of bubbles and camera in hand, as yet another magical sunset took our breath away. It was truly a perfect prelude to the exclusive candlelit degustation dinner that awaited us back at the retreat.
We were on a high as we recounted the day while attacking with gusto a delectable assortment of small meals, our favourite being roasted duck-leg confit with herb risotto and citrus glaze. Each dish was paired with a matching wine, and the meal ended with an indulgent chocolate dessert.
An hour south of “the world’s most livable city”, Mornington, the Mornington Peninsula has enormous charm and appeal, with a plethora of romantic options including excellent wineries with award-winning vineyard restaurants, quality art galleries, hot springs and spa facilities, and world-class golf courses. There’s also fabulous regional produce, and endless surf and bay beaches – edged with those wonderful, brightly coloured bathing boxes that are so… well, Victorian.
So bountiful is the region – with myriad small producers, quality gardens and farms, fresh produce markets, gourmet brewers and wine experiences – that the clever people at Mornington Peninsula Regional Tourism have come up with a user-friendy, fold-out Wine Food Farmgate Trail map and guide, with directions and relevant details. Fortunately for food and wine-lovers, many of the 100-odd farmgates are concentrated around Red Hill – the ridgetop village centrally located between Dromana on Port Philip Bay and Shoreham on Westernport Bay. You can even visit several on a fun Horseback Winery Tour. You can also pick your own berries and cherries, make your own gin and charcuterie, buy top local goats’ cheese and fresh organic produce, sip wine with winemakers, savour cider and beer with local brewers, and choose rare-breed meats, salamis and produce to take home. Some of the stops on the farmgate map include:
“You can pick your own berries and cherries, make your own gin and charcuterie, buy top local goats’ cheese…”
At Mock Red Hill, Sheryn Mock runs a cider lounge in a former apple cool-room. The property has been an orchard for more than 200 years, and in the Mock family since 1960, when Sheryn’s great-great-grandfather (and orchardist) moved from Blackburn to escape the threatening suburban sprawl of Melbourne. Today, the 50-acre property of 8,500 apple trees and 150 pear trees produces a range of excellent ciders, from dry, classic and sweet to non-alcoholic sparkling apple and pear juices – even a cherry liqueur blended with a 10-year-old brandy. Take home flavoursome freeze-dried fruits and naturally fermented apple cider vinegar that’s been oak-aged for 12 months.
Bagan – Mandalay, Burma (Myanmar)
Visitors Per Year: Around 2.1 million
Among the plains of central Burma lies ancient Bagan, the remains of a kingdom comprising some 2,000 Buddhist temples. Until recently, visitors were scarce but now the secret’s out…
Front Door: A fee (25,000MMK/£14.44) is charged upon entering the Bagan Archaeological Zone. Most visitors arrive via a short-hop flight at Bagan Nyaung U Airport. From there, the town of Nyaung U is a ten-minute taxi away, but the majority stay in the resorts scattered among the temples of Old Bagan.
Back Door: Stay in Nyaung U for more of a local feel; it’s also not far from the Irrawaddy River, so end your day with a quiet cruise. Rent an E-bike to explore the temples of Old Bagan away from the tours, while hot-air balloon flights are also a good way to skip the crowds. Be sure to book at least a month in advance; it’s also worth paying extra for the smallest (four-person) basket. Bear in mind also that access to the upper levels of temples is now banned in all but five pagodas.
For the most popular temples (Dhammayangyi, Shwesandaw, Ananda), arrive just after sunrise. The tours leave shortly after the sun comes up and the touts are too drowsy to bother you. After, rent an E-bike and head into the plains to discover smaller sites such as the Nandapyinnya, near Minanthu village, which has some of the best-preserved wall paintings in Bagan and is usually empty.
Head down to the jetty in Nyaung U and hire a boat (from 150,000MMK/£9) to take you up the river to a pair of temples (Thetkyamuni and Kondawgyi) not easily accessed by land. Plan this as an afternoon excursion and you can spend the sunset on the Irrawaddy as well.
“Thisawadi (near New Bagan) is a quiet alternative to catch sunrise/sunset. There are several levels on the way up it, but the highest offers the best shots. This is also one of the few temples still open for visitors to ascend, but less popular than the likes of Shwesandaw.”
Why it’s a hot spot: The Antarctic is a good feeding ground for orcas and it is estimated that half the world’s population (around 25,000) reside there. Tours circle the Antarctic Peninsula in search of dorsal fins cutting through waves, or to witness orcas crashing into icebergs to knock unsuspecting sea lions into the water where they can be devoured.
Where to see: Tours of the peninsula from Argentina’s Ushuaia are popular, with sightings of minke and humpback whales common. Trips from New Zealand to the Ross Sea in the eastern Antarctic are also rich with orcas.
When to go: February-March
Why it’s a hot spot: Neither heavy in numbers nor easy to spot, the lure of Patagonia’s orcas is their sophisticated hunting technique. Witness the lobos (meaning wolves, a local nickname given to the area’s predatory orcas) gulp down sea lion pups after purposely beaching themselves at high tide in order to capture their prey.
Where to see: Viewings are mainly land-based, with the beaches of Caleta Valdes, Punta Delgada and Punta Norte all good viewing spots.
When to go: March-April (Punta Norte) and September-October (Punta Delgada and Caleta Valdes)