Travel Goals Master Checklist: Part VI Australia and Oceania

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

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

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

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

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

Mt. 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.

Sydney, Australia

Sydney, Australia

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.

Uluru, Australia

Uluru, Australia

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.

Closing Thoughts

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!

Surf & Turf in the Real Outback Without Fork or Knife

The Great Barrier Reef - One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World
The Great Barrier Reef – One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World

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.

I'd like to be...Under the sea...on the Great Barrier Reef
I’d like to be…Under the sea…on 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.

Undara Lava Tubes National Park, Queensland, Australia
Undara Lava Tubes National Park, Queensland, Australia

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.

Why The World Heritage List Should Be On Yours

What do the Great Pyramid, Great Barrier Reef, and Great Wall of China all have in common, besides the title “great”? Interestingly, it is the same thing they have in common with the Tower of London, Mt. Kilimanjaro, and the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu. Give up? They are all considered World Heritage Sites, a designation by UNESCO-the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Great Wall, Ba da ling Section, Near Beijing, China
Great Wall, Ba da ling Section, Near Beijing, China

Regarding the World Heritage List, UNESCO’s stated goal is to “encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity.” In layman’s terms, it seeks to preserve the most meaningful, historic and naturally beautiful places on earth. And while the list’s occupants such as the historic center of Rome, or the Galapagos Islands may be familiar to most people, their status among the world’s premier destinations may be relatively unknown.

When it comes time for me to begin considering ideas for a trip—also known as: always—my first order of business is to peruse a given destination’s World Heritage Sites. It’s been my experience that in the 66 WHS I’ve visited (out of 981 total worldwide) every last one was worth the trip. Most are no-brainers. I mean, who doesn’t visit the Taj Mahal when in India? But there are lesser-known sites that were like finding hidden treasure. A case in point is the Goreme National Park, in the Cappadocia region of Turkey. This unique collection of troglodyte dwellings and surreal rock-formations is unlike anywhere else I’ve ever heard of—let alone visited. So as a rule of thumb, when considering a destination, always check to see if there are any World Heritage Sites within striking distance. Your photo album will thank you for it.

Goreme Open Air Museum, Goreme, Turkey
Goreme Open Air Museum, Goreme, Turkey

To find a complete list of World Heritage Sites along with more information, you can log onto the official web site at http://whc.unesco.org. There is also a fantastic unofficial site at www.worldheritagesite.org where travelers the world over post their comments, observations and words of wonder at these bright spots on the world map. After perusing them yourself, you just may be so moved with appreciation to include one or two of these World Heritage Sites on your next trip at home or abroad.

Have you visited a World Heritage Site? Tell me about it!