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!

Sydney is Awesome. Never Mind the Spiders

Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia
Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia

If you were a convicted English felon living in the 1800’s or so, learning that you would be sent to Australia would not be a happy prospect. It would likely mean saying goodbye to everyone and everything that you knew, being subjected to a torturous and lengthy journey just to get there, followed by a hard life in a penal colony. As if this weren’t bad enough, you would also discover that the aforementioned penal colony was home to some of the some of the creepiest-looking spiders and deadliest snakes anywhere. For many, the latter alone would be enough to scare them straight.

Happily (especially for the Australian Tourist Board) perceptions of Australia have changed dramatically since then. You’d be hard pressed to find someone in the arrivals hall there against their will; maintaining contact with family and friends is a cinch; even the trip to get there, while tediously long from just about everywhere, is far less likely to end in death as say, rounding the Cape of Good Hope in a wooden merchant ship.

But even in the thoroughly modern capital city of Sydney, you can still find those spiders. And when I say spiders, I’m referring to enormous though harmless arachnids whose only threat to your health is a sharp jump in blood pressure upon seeing them in all their gigantic glory. More on them later.

Spiders aside, Sydney is a fantastic destination. Most people don’t come to Australia for the urban scene, but this city set in a natural harbor on the banks of the Parramatta River is modern chic despite the wilderness that surrounds it. Home to skyscrapers, shopping malls and a multicultural population, the feel is decidedly more European or North American than former penal colony. I’m sure even the spiders must be impressed by how far Sydney has come.

Sydney’s most iconic building – the Sydney Opera House – is more than just a working performance venue; it’s a tourist attraction in its own right. The sail-like eaves (surprisingly made entirely of ceramic tile) juxtapose with the skyline behind it, and provide a counterbalance to the famous lines of the Harbor Bridge just beyond. Climbing the bridge has become a rite of passage; ranking highly among Australian tourist experiences such as throwing a boomerang or playing a didgeridoo (or more accurately, blowing into a didgeridoo and wondering why it doesn’t make the same noise it’s supposed to).

Some of the harmless but sinister-looking spiders in the Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney
Some of the harmless but sinister-looking spiders in the Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney

The opera house is set amid Sydney’s Royal Botanical Gardens, which is home to various indigenous flora, quite a few flying foxes (a.k.a. bats) and many of those innocuous but enormous spiders dangling on massive webs woven between trees. While I struggled to get my own blood pressure under control, a glance at my wife’s expression – revealing a genuine revulsion at such a large spider’s very existence – left me wondering if she wouldn’t just hop on the next flight out of there. Fortunately she was able to overlook this unpleasant revelation, and wound up enjoying the city very much. Trust me, that in itself is quite an endorsement.

Fortunately that was my only encounter with creepy-crawlies. The downtown has a sleek, modern design, especially in nearby Darling Harbor. This to me was similar to New York’s South Street Seaport not only because of its waterfront setting, but its blend of happening restaurants, shopping venues, and street performers pandering to the pedestrian crowds.

A short monorail ride away is the Queen Victoria Building – a stately stone edifice that stands out against the backdrop of glass and steel. Though the interior is used as a shopping mall, shoppers will do well to notice the elaborate architecture on display – particularly the Great Australian Clock, depicting some 33 scenes from Australian history from both the Aboriginal and European perspective.

For anyone hoping to relive the days of convicts in exile, one can visit The Rocks – a neighborhood which made up part of the original settlement. Today it is a district of restaurants and souvenir shops; a decidedly a more pleasant destination than it was for the arriving convicts.

The "Three Sisters", Blue Mountains National Park, Australia
The “Three Sisters”, Blue Mountains National Park, Australia

As I mentioned before, most people don’t come to Australia for the cities, so it is fortunate that some truly magnificent natural beauty is located within reasonable proximity to Sydney. Besides the beaches of Bondi and Manly on the nearby Pacific Coast, a fifty mile drive to the west will bring you to Blue Mountains National Park. This UNESCO World Heritage region is a gorgeous setting of sweeping vistas, forested valleys of gum and eucalyptus trees, along with the famous “Three Sisters” rock formation the park is known for. For the record, I’m sure there must’ve been some spiders out there but I didn’t see them. And even if I did, seeing this powerful landscape in person is worth a little discomfort from the ‘heebie-jeebies’.

Have a kangaroo eat right out of your hand at Featherdale Wildlife Park
Have a kangaroo eat right out of your hand at Featherdale Wildlife Park

Continuing in a vein of what people come to see in Australia, not far out of town is Featherdale Wildlife Park, a uniquely Australian petting zoo which allows guests to observe and in some cases interact with some of the continent’s most lovable and villainous denizens. You can have your picture taken with a sleepy-eyed koala, feed a baby kangaroo right out of your hand (watch out for interloping emus!), and admire more wallabies than you can shake a stick at. There was even an enclosure housing Australia’s most-deadliest snakes and the infamous Tasmanian Devils (you’re not allowed to interact with these guys). Whether you’re into naughty or nice, there’s something here for everyone.

Without a doubt, visiting Australia today is a far more pleasant experience than in times past. Sydney in particular is not only an awesome city but a great base of operations for exploring the beauty of New South Wales. Sure the trip is long, ticket prices are high, and there’s always the chance of seeing a giant spider. But as opposed to those convicts of days gone by, visitors come to Sydney of their own volition and the majority leave happy. Spiders or no spiders, that has to count for something.

 

Have you been to Sydney and have an experience or suggestion to share? Leave a comment!