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!

South Island Circle Tour Part I

The Untamed Wilderness of Fiordland National Park
The Untamed Wilderness of Fiordland National Park

People tend to toss around a lot of adjectives when describing the South Island of New Zealand, many of which would sound like so much hype to the uninformed listener. However, in just one short visit it become apparent that words—be they adjectives or not—simply cannot convey the surpassing beauty encompassed by this tiny nation that is roughly the size of California.

Located deep in the Southern Hemisphere, New Zealand is remote enough to be off the casual tourist’s beaten path, yet its high standard of living and modern infrastructure make traveling about a breeze. In March of 2005 I had the privilege to do just that, completing a circuitous whirlwind tour in a little over a week. After just five minutes on the ground I realized that a week is far too short a time to really experience a destination so richly blessed with natural beauty and adventure opportunities.

Christchurch to Mt. Cook

The Glacial Blue of Lake Pukaki, NZ
The Glacial Blue of Lake Pukaki, NZ

Most international travelers arrive via Christchurch, the South Island’s largest city and the only place that can even remotely be phrased as “urban”. Even so, admiring the city’s Scottish architecture and charm nestled along the leafy banks of the Avon River prepares the visitor for the harmony between man and nature that lay just outside the city limits.

From Christchurch my journeys took me south on the well-paved highway that runs the length of the level eastern coast. Not long after passing through the small town of Ashburton my route turned inland, and before long I was staring out at the snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps that formed the horizon. As I drew near, the road hugged the hilly shorelines of the glacial blue waters of Lakes Tekapo and Pukaki—large inland bodies of water with the jagged outline of the mountains forming the perfect backdrop. The tallest of them all is Mt.Cook, or Aoraki, as it is called in the native Maori tongue. The national park that bears its name offers easily accessible trails that admire the mountain from different vantage points. This was the first time of many that I noticed how difficult it would be to effectively describe the scale of the grandeur this country possesses all within a very small space.

Mt. Cook to Queenstown

In Front of the Remarkables Range, Deer Park Heights, NZ
In Front of the Remarkables Range, Deer Park Heights, NZ

Heading south through the small town of Twizel, it was a windy road through central Otago and its hills of grassy tussock dotted with scores of sheep, all the way down to New Zealand’s adventure capital of Queenstown. Here, the visitor can defy death in any number of ways, from bungee jumping, to an exhilarating jet boat ride down the Karawaru or Shotover Rivers, to an alpine slide perched high above the town.

Hugging the northeastern shoreline of Lake Wakitipu, Queenstown is a year-round destination, doubling as a ski resort in the winter months. The modest waterfront offers numerous shopping opportunities for souvenirs and local goods—particularly wool textiles, though the exchange rate and prices now favor European and Japanese visitors far more than their American counterparts. My most pleasant discovery was on a small mountain on the opposite shore called Deer Park Heights. It was here that Peter Jackson filmed many scenes for his Lord of the Rings trilogy and it was very apparent as to why. I noted here, as I did in several other locations, that New Zealand was truly as close to Tolkien’s “Middle Earth” as it gets. There’s sort of a primordial feel about the place that makes it seem ancient yet innocent at the same time. Cinematic fame aside, this quasi-animal park also afforded some spectacular views of the entire Queenstown region, from the lake to the river to the appropriately named Remarkables mountain range.

Queenstown to Milford Sound

Mitre Peak, Milford Sound, Fiordland National Park, New Zealand
Mitre Peak, Milford Sound, Fiordland National Park, New Zealand

It was from my base in Queenstown that I made my first attempt to visit renowned Milford Sound, only to be turned back by the heaviest single day rainfall in nearly a century. Undeterred, I once again made the three and a half hour trip to Milford Sound, the popular attraction located deep inside Fiordland National Park, which is itself part of a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site that is most certainly a worthy entrant. In a land full of superlatives, this place reigns supreme. My jaw began to hurt from repetitive dropping as the road wound past raging boulder-strewn rivers, towering mountains ringed with temperate rain forest, and more waterfalls than I could count. Mind you, this was all just on the periphery. Once through the Homer Tunnel it was a short yet scenic drive to the terminus of Milford Sound—a cluster of buildings housing a visitor’s center, restaurant, and many sales counters for the various boats that ply the waters out to the mouth of the Tasman Sea and back. I boarded one such vessel and was soon admiring the gushing spout of Lady Bowen Falls. Once again the issue of scale came to mind as I watched other boats drift by its base, dwarfed by 4000 foot near-vertical cliffs rising up to glacier-topped peaks. It was then that our captain altered our course to bring us parallel with a pod of bottlenose dolphins arching in and out of the water. Later on the animal encounters continued as we saw an adorable pack of sea lions lounging atop the rocks at the base of yet another waterfall.

When the boat was finally settled into its moorings across from triangular and iconic Mitre Peak, I realized that in all my travels, and they are many, I have never seen another place that could match the natural splendor and grandeur that I witnessed here. And as I returned, tired yet satisfied to my rental car for the long trek back to Queenstown, I couldn’t suppress a smile. After all, leaving paradise behind is not so hard when you know that you still have so much more of it on the road ahead.