In this final installment of the Travel Goals Master Checklist series, I’ll briefly recap the remaining destinations chosen for the aforementioned checklist, and why they were included. For the sake of the geographically challenged who may be reading this, Australia & Oceania covers the continent of Australia (shocker!) as well as the islands of New Zealand and the myriad island groups of the South Pacific that you’ve likely seen in either a movie, or your own personal travel fantasy. Enjoy these final entries, and don’t forget to order your own copy of the Travel Goals Master Checklist for yourself or the traveler in your life.
Aitutaki, Cook Islands
The remote Cook Islands are the stuff tropical dreams are made of. The tiny atoll of Aitutaki, with its powder white sands and mesmerizing lagoon could be considered the dreamiest of them all. I was actively looking into the idea of visiting here before the pandemic hit, so for now that circle remains unchecked on my own checklist. But assuming flights to non-New Zealanders open up in the future, I know that Aitutaki will remain a strong component of my own travel goals.
Bora Bora, French Polynesia
Perhaps no other island captures the essence and romance of a South Pacific paradise more than Bora Bora. With a jagged green interior ringed by the most incredibly blue lagoon imaginable, this island in French Polynesia is the very definition of “exotic”. While I never stayed in one of the ridiculously overpriced over-the-water-bungalows, the few days I spent in this tropical Eden made Bora Bora a no-brainer for inclusion on the checklist.
Great Barrier Reef, Australia
It’s hard to mention Australia and not have its native natural wonder of the world come to mind. Stretching along the extended coast of the state of Queensland, the Great Barrier Reef is an aquatic wonderland that I still consider to be the best place on the planet to go scuba diving. Sea life is prolific, conditions are generally calm and on the shallow side, and to top it off there’s plenty to do on land once you dry off. If you like anything to do with the water, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef should by a travel goal for you.
Milford Sound, New Zealand
I feel like every time I speak about Milford Sound, New Zealand I’m repeating myself. That’s probably because I am. I just can’t help myself from blurting out that to this day, this stunning fjord in the southwestern corner of the South Island of New Zealand is still what I would consider to be the most beautiful place on Earth. Majestic doesn’t even do it justice, so if there’s one destination on this checklist that you really, absolutely should strive to mark off, Milford Sound is the place. Just trust me on this.
Mount Cook, New Zealand
Well, since you’re already going to be in New Zealand . . . mighty Mount Cook, with its glaciers and milky blue lakes is another world-class destination that ranks up there with the world’s best. Also known by its Maori name Aoraki, this is the tallest peak in New Zealand, and by some accounts, its most scenic as well. In fact, just get to New Zealand whenever you can; I could probably make another entire checklist solely from the natural wonders that it contains in nearly every corner.
Though most people don’t come all the way to Australia just to experience an urban lifestyle, spending time in Sydney will be worth your while if you did. With a beautiful setting on the Paramatta River, and the iconic Opera House and harbor bridge anchoring the downtown section, Sydney is a cosmopolitan counterbalance to the rugged, wild Outback that characterizes the country.
Speaking about the Outback, the most iconic image of this dry, untamed region that makes up the bulk of the Australian continent is undoubtedly Uluru, formerly known as Ayers Rock. This massive monolith in the center of the continent well encapsulates the rugged, almost primitive nature of the Australian wilderness that still shines through with captivating beauty.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this series half as much as I have enjoyed writing about it. Whittling down the top 72 world-class travel destinations was a labor of love, and ultimately, quite subjective. Whether or not your favorites made the list, I encourage you to visit these amazing places in person once it’s safe for you to do so. And while you’re at it, why not purchase the fully illustrated Travel Goals Master Checklist print, which not only showcases the beautiful imagery of all 72 destinations considered, but features a world map with provided spaces for you to fill-in the ones you’ve visited. I think you’ll find that regardless of the number of spaces you can check off, most of the fun will be in figuring out a way to reach those that remain empty. After all, setting travel goals is a never-ending journey that will enrich your life, and provide a sense of accomplishment that only a true traveler can understand.
How did you like the Travel Goals Master Checklist Series? Leave a comment below and let me know. Happy Travels!
In this time of forced quarantine and limited travel options, I recently released a seven-part series of Top Ten travel photos from each continent on my website Customtravelart.com. For the benefit of my loyal cadre of readers on my Trip Accomplice blog, I’ve shared links below to each of the seven posts – all in one place! I hope that you can derive some joy, inspiration and comfort from these images and that they might tide you over until it’s time to get out there in person once more.
And if you haven’t already done so, I invite you to visit www.customtravelart.com for great gift ideas for the traveler in your life
Giving travel advice is often like finding a file on your computer. Before you can find the appropriate document, you first have to find the general folder it would be filed under. That’s because travel – like many other things – falls under certain general categories. And in terms of geography, you can’t get any more general than the seven continents. So for the geographically challenged/curious, I’ve decided to provide a baseline of what each continent has to offer, the reasons to go, the downside of going, and the best way to do so.
I’ll start with North America because that’s where I start my own travels. This heading also includes the many island nations of the Caribbean, which while not on the North American mainland, still have to be filed somewhere.
North America has it all – from the frozen tundra of the Canadian Arctic, to the impressive Sierra Madre and Rocky Mountain ranges, to the endless prairies of the Central US, to the deserts of the US Southwest and Mexico and the steamy jungles of Central America – just about all geological features make an appearance. On the cultural side, it is a living history lesson of the results of colonialism and an amalgam of European and indigenous heritage.
A better question would be why shouldn’t you go? If you love nature, the National Parks of the Western US and Canada are some of the world’s best. Plus the Grand Canyon and Paracutin – two of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World – are located here (well, technically three, since the Aurora Borealis doesn’t have a fixed location and the northern latitudes are prime viewing points).
Cities like San Francisco, San Antonio and Quebec City bristle with character and charm, and New York City, the de facto capital of the world, is one of the most recognizable metropolises anywhere. And if all you want to do is relax, the beaches of Mexico and the Caribbean aren’t world famous for no reason.
Despite having a very developed infrastructure for the most part, there are a few downsides to traveling about the continent. Those coming from less affluent countries might find countries like the US and Canada expensive – especially in the cities – and even getting around the Caribbean by air can be pricey. Then there’s the relatively vast distances involved between sites of interest, which means you’re not going to see all that’s worth seeing in one trip. In Mexico and Central America there are security concerns that should be considered before setting off on your own.
How to see it
With excellent air connections from around the globe, you can fly into virtually any corner of the continent to begin your travels. In the US, taking a road trip is a traveler’s rite of passage, and will allow you to see various aspects of the country along the way. In Canada there’s the amazing rail journey from Quebec City to Vancouver if you have the time and money available. And the Caribbean is best visited by cruise ship for an excellent ‘sampling’ of what the region offers.
Heading southward, the landmass of South America is almost as geologically varied as North America, but in a more compact space. It’s a wonderful blend of adventure and familiarity that has to be seen to be understood
This is a continent with much natural wealth – which is pretty much evenly distributed – even if there’s a great disparity when it comes to literal wealth. Most of the continent is Spanish speaking – with lots of indigenous languages – aside from Brazil, where its heritage as a Portuguese colony is preserved in its language and architecture. From historic towns to modern cities, South America is at the cusp of the Old World and the New. Add in such natural marvels as the majestic Andes Range and the Amazon rain forest, and you’ve got a mixture that is sure to draw all types of travelers.
There are still many places where nature is relatively untouched – such as the Amazon basin and stunning alpine parks of Ecuador, Chile and Peru. The beaches of Brazil are every bit worth the hype, cities like Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro offer vibes (and in the case of the latter – views) unlike any others. And if that’s not enough, I’ve got two words for you: Machu Picchu
Compared to other parts of the world, the infrastructure is still in development. In practical terms that means long bus rides, bumpy roads and even seasons where certain destinations are inaccessible. The stark contrast between wealth and poverty is often in full display – especially in the large cities – and one should be wary of their surroundings and belongings. This shouldn’t stop you from going, but you should pay more than the usual attention.
How to see it
For the larger countries of Brazil, Chile and Argentina, air travel is the most effective way of transiting the long and undeveloped hinterlands between sites of interest. In the Andes, there are bus services that while long, do offer economical travel between cities in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. For cruisers, the Round the Horn itinerary from Valparaiso to Buenos Aires is a regular staple.
For better or worse, much of the world’s history (and tragedy) originally sprang from the nations of Europe. Perhaps more than anywhere else on earth, there is a strong concentration of different cultures and language – most of which have left their mark even in places far, far from home – in a relatively small area.
Blessed with a mostly temperate climate and fertile, arable land, Europe boasts pleasant, if not idyllic landscapes of forests, rolling farmland, and beautiful rivers. Add to that the gorgeous mountain ranges of the Alps, Pyrenees and Apennines together with the majestic Norwegian Fjords, and there’s a wealth of natural beauty on display.
Culturally speaking, there’s a smorgasborg of language, food and architecture unmatched anywhere else. As the home of many former seats of empire such as the Romans, Greeks, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch and British, it seems that nearly every city, town and hill is somehow historic.
In my opinion, the best thing about traveling through Europe (with or without a backpack) is the proximity of so many unique and delightful cultures. For instance, if you flew into Switzerland – which is gorgeous in its own rite – you are just a few hours drive from such varied and worthy destinations as Bavarian Germany, the Italian Lake Region, Austria’s Wachau, the French Riviera and much more.
Cities such as London, Paris, Venice and Rome are absolute must-sees, and for those looking for more laid-back vibes, it’s hard to beat the Irish/English/Scottish countryside or the beach destinations of Spain’s Costa del Sol, the Amalfi Coast or the Greek Islands. Plus, getting around by air, car or train is more dependable and accessible than anywhere else in Earth, with infrastructure that’s the world’s envy.
Compared to much of the world, Europe is a very expensive destination when it comes to lodging, transport, and if you’re in Scandinavia – eating. And while all those cultures make for a fascinating trip, the language barrier is heavily pronounced (pun intended) when hopping from country to country.
How to see it
There’s a wealth of options for the potential traveler to Europe. Renting a car is an effective option if you don’t mind selling one of your kidneys to pay for gas, as driving is on an excellent network of roads where people generally respect traffic laws – Naples notwithstanding. There are cheap flights between cities on budget carriers so long as you’re not carrying much baggage – be sure to read the fine print. And while not cheap, A Euro-rail pass will take you pretty much anywhere worth going, both comfortably and effectively. In addition, cruise ships ply the waters throughout the Mediterranean, Baltic and North Seas along with most major rivers such as the Rhine, Rhone and Danube if you’d like to do your sightseeing via watercraft.
Even with one of the planet’s fastest growing populations, Africa remains a byword for mystery and adventure. I can tell you that it’s all true. And while with a few exceptions people don’t come to Africa for the cities, there’s a mystique about Africa that continues to mesmerize all those who visit, and creates a powerful urge to return. For a place that has seen and continues to see more than its share of tragedy and injustice, its inhabitants remain some of the warmest and friendliest on Earth.
Africa can basically be categorized into the four points of the compass. North Africa boasts the ruins of ancient wonders such as Egypt and Carthage (Tunisia) along with the present-day Arab influence and architecture until it fades into the mighty Sahara. West Africa offers vibrant culture and the appalling history of the slave trade. East Africa is rightly famous for its vast Savannah, game parks and Mt. Kilimanjaro. And Southern Africa offers some of the continents best game-viewing opportunities to go along with the ultimate natural attraction – Victoria Falls.
Africa is nature at its rawest, and often, most impressive. I can attest that seeing such majestic animas such as lions, hippos and elephants in the wild is a thrill unavailable on any other continent. This is the ultimate place for a safari. Then there are the sunsets, bejeweled by the dusty African soil, that to this day inspire those who witness it to stop, reflect, and have a drink.
While certain cities such as Capetown and Johannesburg are currently hopping and ready for business, the real draw is the people and their humble lives in the villages of the interior. And while many wouldn’t think of Africa as a beach destination, the unspoiled coastline from Kenya to Mozambique – and island chains such as the Seychelles – are certainly capable of giving the Caribbean a run for their money.
Sub-Saharan Africa is still one of the world’s poorest regions, with all the crime and instability that comes along with it. Unfortunately, many areas are unsafe or politically unstable, which is a true shame in view of the beauty that is off-limits. Infrastructure too is sketchy at best, and getting around almost always fraught with delays. Surprising too are the costs involved, as procuring accommodations and services that are up to Western standards involves a rather hefty price tag. Unless you’re willing to do without many comforts, this is not the destination for someone on a budget.
How to see it
With the exception of South Africa, where you could comfortably and safely rent a car to visit the best attractions, it is usually worth booking an organized tour – whether private or with a group. This spares you the inevitable logistical headaches of moving around and dealing with often fickle officials and establishments, while generally giving you a good value. This goes doubly so when organizing a safari or a stay at a game reserve.
As the largest landmass on the planet, it’s no surprise that Asia has the world’s largest population, with all the variant cultures, landscapes and history you would expect. In the Far East, modern cities have sprung up seemingly overnight, though a closer look will still show the traditional ‘bones’ of the historic sites where they are built. Asia’s worth seeing if only to witness it the way it is, before it completely rewrites itself.
Spreading across half the globe, Asia encompasses a wide array of geological features. From the deserts of the Middle East, to the jungles of Indochina, to the mighty Himalayas, Asia has it all. Culturally, heavy hitters like China and Japan boast centuries of history and culture, but so do smaller lands such as Thailand and Sri Lanka. Then there’s India – arguably one of the most fascinating places on Earth.
Asia is where it’s happening. Cities like Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong are among the world’s best skylines, while up and coming destinations like Thailand and Vietnam offer a delicious blend of urban chaos and natural oases in close proximity. Natural beauty abounds in the interiors of China and Japan, the islands of the Philippines and Borneo, and the beaches of Thailand and Indonesia. Then there’s the Taj Mahal – the most beautiful structure on Earth.
Being so big, even with a year at your disposal, that’s not enough time to see all there is to see in Asia. Outside of more developed nations such as Korea, China and Japan, infrastructure can be rough at times, making land travel a less appealing option. Air and rail travel can be very crowded, as are many sites of interest, especially during national holidays. And don’t get me started about traffic in India . . .
How to see it
My advice is to pick a region and see things one section at a time. Depending on the country you’re in, you can get by comfortably on relatively little money. As a rule of thumb, the more modern the country, the easier for you to explore on your own. So while I’d recommend seeing Japan, Korea, Singapore and even most of Thailand independently, for other destinations it would just be a lot easier to have a tour operator take care of all those things for you.
Other than the continent itself, I’ll include the South Pacific nations of New Zealand, Polynesia and the rest of “Oceania” in this section. Long held as being exotic for its remoteness (unless you live there), this far-flung collection of islands and landmass makes the very long trip to get there worth the time and money.
Culturally, the islands of Polynesia still hold the allure that they once did – as do the gorgeous jungle-clad mountains and crystalline lagoons. Australia itself – despite having its most popular attractions inconveniently located far from one another – boasts an arid yet interesting interior, ringed by wet tropics in the north, dynamic modern cities on the east coast and the famous “outback” wilderness everywhere else. There’s the unmissable Great Barrier Reef in the northeast, and just across the Tasman Sea is in my opinion the most beautiful place in the world – New Zealand.
For most visitors, getting to Australia involves a really (really!) long plane ride. Even getting around is most conveniently done by air, as distances are great. And getting to those remote island chains dotting the Pacific can be harder still, and certainly not cheap. A trip here is an investment of both time and money.
How to see it
Again, choosing a specific region is a good way to go, as there’s a lot of ground to cover. Sometimes airlines will allow for stopovers in island chains on the way over, which is a good way to see some of the remoter parts of the ‘continent’. If you’re in New Zealand, then renting a car is your best bet. Not only are the roads and infrastructure excellent, but a road trip will bring you through some of the most amazing scenery anywhere.
That giant white blob on the bottom of your map will no doubt be the hardest of the continents for you to get to. Add to that the fact that there are no towns or cities on the continent – only research stations – and you’ll get a sense of just how remote it is. But for any seasoned traveler, visiting Antarctica is a feather in your cap and a stunning reminder of the superior forces of nature.
For many avid travelers, Antarctica is the only continent left to visit – and for good reason. Most of the year weather conditions are far too unfavorable, and even during the ‘summer’ a flight to one of the research stations (itself an enormous monetary investment) has only about a 20% chance of being able to take off. But once you’re there, the stark beauty of water, ice and snow, with a liberal sprinkling of penguins is a sight you’ll never forget.
As I mentioned before, weather is a major factor here, with temperatures that drop into regions that can be truly life-threatening. With no trees, grass, or shrubs, you’re exposed to the elements and need to dress accordingly even in summertime. Trips to the White Continent are also among the most expensive out there – costing upwards of over $4000 US for a sea voyage that will likely bring you across some of the roughest waters on the planet.
How to see it
The vast majority of visitors arrive by ship, making stops at research stations and cruising the iceberg-riddled waterways. The Argentine port of Ushuaia is the most popular starting point, though there are trips also possible from Australia. A typical itinerary will cross the Drake Passage, visit the South Shetland Islands, then cruise the icy finger of the Antarctic Peninsula. For a better value, some mainstream cruise lines offer itineraries that will bring you to Antarctica, but you won’t be able to leave the ship.
Now that you know the general ‘folders’ of the planet, you should be able to narrow down your areas of interest. Armed with this cursory overview of the globe, I hope you’re able to select the ‘file’ that’s most to your liking. See you out there!
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank whomever it was that invented the dish called surf and turf. I mean, the brilliance is just astounding! Hmm, what can we possibly serve alongside a succulent steak to make it taste even better and cost even more? I know! Lobster! And there you have it – the best of both worlds right there on the same plate.
In terms of travel, you can go with the straight up entree of just one destination (beach, mountains, whatever) or you can insist on having a little more variety (beach and mountains and whatever). There are several places that come to mind where you can do so, but if you really want the best of both worlds – the metaphorical surf and turf of travel – a trip to the Australian state of Queensland is the best choice on the menu. You won’t even need silverware.
Speaking of metaphors, the term surf and turf also lends itself to the nature of Queensland’s attractions. There’s the surf – some lovely beaches to go along with the incomparable Great Barrier Reef – as well as the turf – a broad spectrum of land-based features ranging from the lush Wet Tropics to the arid Outback. Not only does this offer you a great deal of variety when it comes to activities, but much like that steak and lobster tail, the elements – though wildly different – complement each other. Think of it as Jacques Cousteau meets Crocodile Dundee.
Chances are you’ll be looking for a place to stay on the ‘turf’ portion of our metaphor, and there’s perhaps no better base of operations than the small coastal city of Cairns. From here you can have your surf, turf or a little of both, all accessible through easy day trips. The town itself isn’t terribly noteworthy, though there are some decent restaurants and shopping malls geared to tourists. But there are lots of affordable lodging options in and around town, and it is a convenient launching point for the area attractions.
So to start off with the surf, north of town there are some lovely beaches – such as Trinity Beach – an easy drive away. This is a great place to unwind and take a dip so long as it isn’t box jellyfish season (particularly January-February). But while the beaches (jellyfish aside) may be appealing, the main reason people come to northern Queensland is located some thirty miles offshore – The Great Barrier Reef.
Though technically beginning just north of the town of Bundaberg, it is here near Cairns that most visitors will access this gargantuan natural wonder. Just for the record, the GBR isn’t one contiguous reef, but rather a coral reef system that spans some 1,400 miles. Besides its fame as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and status as one of the ‘Seven Natural Wonders of the World’ (right up there with Victoria Falls and the Grand Canyon), for lovers of marine life and scuba divers in particular, this is the Holy Land.
Getting to the reef is possible via high speed catamarans and other watercraft, allowing for day trips for both snorkelers and divers alike. But if you’re serious about your fishes (like me), the best way to see the reef is on a live-aboard dive vessel. Not only do you get to spend more time on the reef (usually 4-5 dives a day including night dives) but you can also access more remote sites that are beyond the reach of day trippers. It’s not cheap, but then again, surf and turf never is.
Moving on to the ‘turf’, there’s a wide variety of ‘cuts’ that can be sampled from your base of operations. The easiest (and most touristy) is the mountain town of Kuranda, maybe a half hour drive from Cairns. Set inside the rain forest of the Wet Tropics Heritage Area and nearby to Barron Gorge National Park, the main attractions are the flea market and the Kuranda Scenic Railway, which has daily service to Cairns and sums up the whole “life’s a journey, not a destination” cliché.
If that’s not enough Wet Tropics for you, less than two hours to the north is steamy Daintree National Park, offering more lush greenery and the lovely Mossman Gorge. Considering the high levels of humidity, be aware that it may at times feel more surf than turf.
No trip to Australia would be complete without a visit to the Outback – a general term for the sprawling, largely untamed and arid interior of the country. From Cairns, a long but scenic drive over the Atherton Tablelands will bring you right into the sort of scenery everyone associates with the Outback; mostly-flat terrain; red soil; massive termite mounds and packs of kangaroos lounging about the savannah. A great destination is Undara Lava Tubes National Park, where you can see the aforementioned geological formations and wander a landscape right out of Crocodile Dundee (both 1 and 2). This is authentic Australia, and I can honestly say that my time gazing at this brittle landscape to the sound of cackling kookaburra birds is perhaps my greatest memory in what is an already very memorable country.
Getting to Cairns is quite simple. You can either spend long tedious hours (I mean, really long) driving up from Brisbane, or you can hop on one of any number of daily flights from most major Australian cities and even New Zealand. While the town itself is walk-able, the attractions farther afield are not, so plan on renting a car for at least a portion of the time.
As I implied earlier, the best part of surf and turf is not having to choose. The same can be said about northern Queensland. You can enjoy some of the greatest ‘surf’ this planet has to offer, and sample a gamut of ‘turf’ rarely found in such close proximity. I’m sure that’s something both Jacques Cousteau and Crocodile Dundee could agree upon – with or without silverware.