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!

Bite Size Destination Throwback: New Zealand 2005

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

It’s been nearly 16 years and 45 countries ago since I visited New Zealand, yet it still retains its top billing in my mind as the all-time most beautiful place on Earth. In the spirit of a throwback, I thought a stroll down Memory Lane, New Zealand would evoke some fond mental images of natural beauty in its most compelling state. Turns out I was right.

Destination: New Zealand (South Island circle tour)

Year: 2005

What Brought Me There

The Pancake Rocks, New Zealand

What Brought Me There

In the 2000’s New Zealand was well on its way to becoming a hip and popular destination thanks to its spectacular scenery being broadcast to worldwide audiences via several blockbuster movies of the time. But even before that I had heard rumor of incredible, natural landscapes that had even well-traveled adventurers gushing like schoolchildren. Somehow I sensed that this would be “my kind of place.”

Using airline miles accrued through a combination of credit card rewards and actual travel, my wife and I joined my parents on an ambitious 3.5 week journey Down Under, visiting Australia and New Zealand’s South Island. While I enjoyed both destinations immensely, it became readily evident that it would take more than just the 1 week allotted to appreciate the ubiquitous splendor of New Zealand’s incomparable scenery.

What I Loved

Hiking Fox Glacier, South Island, New Zealand

Our whirlwind tour started in Christchurch, took in an afternoon at majestic Mount Cook, then lingered a few days in Queenstown before working our way up the wild West Coast and coming round to Christchurch again. The highlight was Milford Sound, in Fiordland National Park. Despite the many travels I’ve had since then, I still consider it to be the most beautiful place on Earth.

Another personal favorite was a hike on the Fox Glacier, mostly because of the incredible sense of scale when watching tiny dots clambering their way across a thousand-foot deep block of blue and white ice. In fact there several occasions when the sheer enormity of the landscape I was contemplating literally took my breath away.

What I Would Do If I Went Back

Even though by most accounts the South Island is where the most jaw-dropping scenery resides, there are several places on the North Island that I would like to see firsthand: The geothermal features of Rotorua, Tongariro National Park, and most of all, taking a blackwater rafting trip down an underground river in the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. Yes, you heard right – glowworms.

Have you been to New Zealand? Share your favorite moment in the comments below. And if you want a great New Zealand souvenir, check out the New Zealand Rugged Country Code Tee in the Custom Travel Art Shop.

New Zealand Rugged Country Code Tee by Custom Travel Art

The Best Spot on Earth? Can You Repeat the Question?

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

When speaking to clients or novice travelers about my travels, sooner or later I inevitably get asked the same question:

“What was the best place you’ve been?”

I know they mean well, and I’m sure they really do want to know. But the problem lies in what they mean by what is ‘best’. It is at this point that I ask my own follow-up questions, which only results in coming back to the original one.

“What was the best place you’ve been?”

So I will answer that now. And just so we’re clear, the following is the expanded version of the question(s) I will be responding to. “Of all the places you have seen, which would rate as best of all?  What is the one spot that not only took your breath away, but a piece of your heart as well? And where is the one place that you were so overwhelmed by its beauty, you still use it as a touchstone to judge all other places?” Since you put it that way, I can respond unhesitatingly—Fiordland  National Park in the Southwest corner of New Zealand.

In a previous blog post I included an abbreviated account of my visit there (see South Circle Island Tour—Part I), but to justify giving it my top honor requires a little more explanation.

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

For anyone without access to a plane, helicopter, or stamina for a four day overland hike, Fiordland National Park is about a three hour drive from Queenstown—the main hub of activity in the region. Once past the town of Te Anau, the scenery kicks into overdrive with grassy meadows of yellow-brown tussock draped beneath an impressive backdrop of towering mountains. Moving further into the park there’s an amazing sense of scale that just can’t be effectively translated into any media I’m aware of. Even words fail to fully capture the grandeur of standing at an overlook watching an emerald tinged river of raging water snake its way through a sea of intensely green temperate rain forest rising up steep mountainsides topped with ice. And this isn’t even the best part.

The gushing spout of Lady Bowen Falls
The gushing spout of Lady Bowen Falls

In an area of superlatives, the title of ‘Most Impressive’ goes to Milford Sound–the terminus of the road and the starting point for scenic cruises. Directly opposite from the small visitors center is the conical shape of Mitre Peak jutting several thousand feet out of the generally placid waters. A trip out to the mouth of the Tasman Sea & back will showcase sheer-sided cliffs ringed with more temperate rain forest, capped by glaciers, and spouting gushing waterfalls that dwarf any man-made craft in the area. Again, fully comprehending the scale of this enormous valley is difficult even when present, let alone a secondhand account.

Being an animal lover, I took special delight when a pod of bottlenose dolphins kept pace with our boat, arcing in and out of the water a few arm-lengths away. Lazing on the rocky shoreline were troops of seals, seemingly unaware that they were residing in a place of such amazing natural beauty. And while admiring the proliferation of indigenous flora, I had a run-in with a kea— parrot that is part of the indigenous fauna—who very brazenly approached looking for a handout.

So there’s my answer. I’ve given you not only the where, but the why. There’s lots of places I would rank higher for more specific questions (for example, “What’s the best place to eat good Italian food? Answer: Italy) but for an overall, all things being equal, ensemble cast award for the best spot on earth, my answer remains Fiordland National Park, New Zealand. And if you don’t like my answer don’t blame me.

You’re the one who asked  🙂

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Film Location Fun & Folly

I still remember the first time I saw a film location site in person. I was young—preteens for sure. My dad had a business trip in L.A. and was able to have me come along. After the event was over we stayed another few days, and being the wonderful dad that he is, he worked it out so that we could stay at the Bonaventure Hotel with its famous outdoor elevators that also played a pivotal role in what was at that time one of my favorite movies: Midnight Madness. I don’t imagine many will recall that kitschy film of 1980 starring a very young Michael J. Fox, but for me, riding that elevator and peering down to see if the pool chairs were still arranged to spell out the location of the finish line (they weren’t) was a moment of cinematic glory and high point in my life to that point. Too bad we can’t stay 12 forever.

 

Aging aside, I know that I still enjoy being in famous film locales regardless if I’ve ever seen them or not. Somehow the fact that a motion picture studio would choose to work their magic in a given place sort of gives weight to a location, as if an appearance on the big screen makes that site a celebrity in and of itself. While I’ve never been star-struck by celebrities in the human form, there have been a few locales that I would have asked for their autograph if only they could hold a pen. Below I’ve included some of my favorites. And for those of you who DO remember Midnight Madness, I challenge you to read on without the cheesy theme song running in your head.

 

Mehrangarh Fort, Johdpur, India

 

My wife Susie posing in front of Batman's "prison"
My wife Susie posing in front of Batman’s “prison”

It was during my visit in December 2011 that I learned that only a few months before, filming had wrapped up for the upcoming Batman installment The Dark Knight Rises. I had to wait until the following summer to see what they filmed, but sitting in the theater I felt a thrill of excitement when I saw Bruce Wayne climb out of a hole with this massive landmark behind him. I also got a charge of seeing Ra’s Al Ghul walking the same embattlements that I did with the ethereal blue city in the background. The urge to jump up and shout “I was there!” was strong, but I thought jumping up and shouting in a crowded theater might cause more trouble than it’s worth, so I savored my connection silently.

 

Deer Park Heights, Queenstown, New Zealand

 

In Front of the Remarkables Range, a.k.a. Rohan, Deer Park Heights, NZ
In Front of the Remarkables Range, a.k.a. Rohan, Deer Park Heights, NZ

It is impossible to visit New Zealand and not stumble across one or more locations used in Peter Jackson’s adaptations of Tolkien’s Middle Earth. In a game park across from the activity-packed town of Queenstown in the southwestern corner of the South Island, these sloping mountainsides of grassy tussock, rocky outcroppings and small tarns with the snow-covered Remarkables Range in the background, doubled for the land of Rohan and featured prominently in the film The Two Towers. It’s a fun place to spend an afternoon with some gorgeous scenery. These days it is also decidedly orc-free, which makes traveling a lot easier.

 

The Lagoon of Bora Bora, French Polynesia

 

Lagoon of Bora Bora, French Polynesia
Lagoon of Bora Bora, French Polynesia

While I wasn’t crazy about the movie Couples Retreat, I was absolutely bonkers over the magnificent setting on Bora Bora. In a time of CGI and special effects, none are needed for the lagoon, which is arguably the most appealing body of water in the world. The movie was made long after I had been there, but I enjoyed seeing it again if only to validate my previously formed opinions.

 

There are many more places I can list but I think I’ve made my point. Having something from the silver screen on your camera’s viewfinder is one of the joys of travel. And sometimes it is that one scene in a movie you love that will send you on a trip many thousands of miles away. Is it silly? Yes. Is it fun? Sure it is, and it’s just another reason to get out into the big wide world.

 

Is there a location made famous in a movie that gave you a thrill to visit in person? Share it here! And if you remember Midnight Madness please share it here as well!