It wasn’t a big travelling year for me compared to last year, but the few overseas and local trips that I took were full of great highlights. From staying at five-star resorts (with our own private butler) to skiing untracked powder (in Australia no less) to dining with locals in the mountains of Vietnam (oh, except the smoked pig’s intestines part) to snorkelling with a dole of turtles (that’s the correct collective noun I believe!). So, without further ado here is my Top Ten Travel Highlights from 2010 (in no particular order):
The Balé Hotel, Nusa Dua, Bali
Fluffy slippers, private pool, cookie jars, breakfast in your own private garden and an on-call 24-hour butler. There’s nothing like a bit of indulgent opulence to make you feel indulgently opulent. I ‘won’ a bunch of nights at any one of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World (it was part of my prize for ASTW Travel Book of the Year) and we also stayed at the The Viceroy in Ubud (which was just as terrible).
Byron Bay, New South Wales, Australia
I was in Byron for the Byron Bay Writer’s Festival and not only was it up there with the best writer’s festival that I’ve been to (along with the Ubud Writer’s Festival), but gee it was nice to escape a Melbourne winter. I actually got to walk around in a T-shirt and didn’t have to wear socks to bed.
Walking Tour of Hanoi, Vietnam
I do love Lonely Planet. Yes, I admit it. I followed exactly step by step the ‘Walking Tour’ of Hanoi thats in Lonely Planet’s Vietnam guidebook and it was marvelous. It took me three hours and the walk took me down little side streets that I never would have found with hidden pagodas and markets and shops. I even had snacks and drinks at all the recommended places to stop and it was wonderful. I’ve followed the ‘Walking Tours’ of cities a few times now particularly when I don’t have much time in a city and it really is a great way to ‘discover’ a city.
Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia
Less than two hours from Melbourne is our major wine growing area. It’s full of rolling vineyard covered hills, boutique hotels and resorts, wonderful restaurants and, best of all, lots of free wine tasting. And even better still is staying the night at one of the boutique resorts (at Balgownie Estate to be exact). The day goes something like this: wander around vineyard, try some wine, swim in the pool and spa, try some wine, sit on the balcony with a view, try some wine, dinner at a fine-dining restaurant, try some wine, stagger back to your room. What a perfect holiday.
Swimming with turtles, Gili Islands, Lombok
Our guide on our full day snorkelling tour promised that we would see a turtle. He was wrong. We saw about twenty of them – and lots of brightly coloured fish and coral. Plus, the boat ride was beautiful and we had a fantastic lunch on Gili Air and it didn’t bother me at all that I had silly-looking goggle marks on my face all day.
Mt Buller Chutes, Victoria, Australia
It’s very rare that you get a real ‘powder’ day in the Australian ‘Alps’. Often it turns into glug not long after its snowed. But, I scored one of those days and it was a beauty. It had been snowing for a few days and even when my day of skiing began at Mt Buller you couldn’t see a metre in front of you. Then, magically the cloud lifted revealing untracked powder everywhere. I spent the the day in Mt Buller Chutes (double black diamond off-piste area) skiing soft, dry powder. You could have heard my hoots of joy from Melbourne.
Campuhan Ridge Walk, Ubud, Bali
This tranquil and stunning walk on the edge of Ubud has a special place in my heart because it is where I met my girlfriend Beth. Eighteen months after we met we did the walk again. It was perfectly romantic and, best of all, not once did one of the snarling stray dogs try to tear me to bits.
Pelican Beach, Queensland, Australia
I put this beach in my list of the Best Beaches in the World. It’s a little island between Harvey Bay and Fraser Island and we had the entire island to ourselves. Heaven.
Dining with locals, Son La, Vietnam
I was in Vietnam doing some volunteer work for an NGO and part of our job was to travel around the stunning and mostly untouched regions in the north west. But the best part was dining with the locals. We had lunch in a family home in small mountain village and a huge banquet (with a dance show) with local dignitaries in Son La and noodle soup (Pho) with a bunch of locals in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere that had probably never even seen a tourist.
Somewhere above Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Okay, I didn’t travel very far out of Melbourne, but boy what a way to do it. I flew upside down in a 1942 Tiger Moth biplane for 30 minutes and as well as loop-de-looping we skirted the city before climbing above Port Phillip Bay for ‘more than mild’ acrobatics. It was such a buzz even if I did almost wet my pants and vomit at the same time.
Happy New Year everyone and I hope there’s lots of wonderful travel experiences for you out there