It was a pretty good year travel wise, but I can’t include my trip earlier this year to the US and Mexico in my highlights because I included it into my 2011 highlights (the trip crossed over from December into January). Mind you, the few overseas and local trips that I took after that were full of great highlights, including jumping out of a helicopter in the Southern Alps of New Zealand, hanging with some kooky tarsiers, big turtles and even bigger humpback whales and adding country number 78 to my list. So without further ado here is my Top Ten Travel Highlights from 2012 (in no particular order):
Balicasag Island, Phillipines
For under $20 I hired a boat (and boat driver!) to take me from Panglao Island in Bohol on a snorkelling trip to the tiny island of Balicasag. Below is a pic of our approach to the island. I spent the day snorkelling over (and in between) magnificent coral reefs surrounded by the usual suspects of colourful fish and surprisingly curious giant turtles. I finished off my day with a delicious meal of grilled chicken and fish and an ice cold San Miguel beer – which was very impressive seeing as the ‘restaurant’ was a really just a few tarps strung up in the trees.
Grampians, Victoria, Australia
I may have seen a lot of the world, but up until this year I hadn’t been to one of the biggest tourist attractions in my own backyard. And with the Grampians only a few hour’s drive from Melbourne I don’t know why I waited so long. I had a wonderful weekend staying in a gorgeous B&B (with my gorgeous wife), taking long hikes through and in and over spectacular rock formations and dining in front of roaring fire with a rather delightful local pinot noir. And we were home in time for supper!
Arrowsmith Ranges, Canterbury, New Zealand
What a perfect way to spend a birthday. Jump in a helicopter then jump out of it on top of a steep New Zealand mountain peak even Froddo would be too scared to climb. Then launch yourself into steep and deep snow on a pair of skis. Then repeat seven times. Then in the middle of all that stop for a spectacular lunch (that’s the food and the view) right in the middle of Middle Earth. Throw in a chocolate birthday cake and you have the perfect birthday.
Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei
It’s been a while since I’ve added a new country to my list, but I hit country No. 78 when I popped into Brunei. I only popped in for a day and a night, but that was probably enough. For a start the country is entirely dry, as in no alcohol at all – and what fun is that! On my one and only evening I was in bed at 8.30 watching a movie in my hotel room. There are no bars or in fact anywhere to go at night except wander the empty and spotlessly clean streets (throwing rubbish gets you three months in jail!). The next day after I’d seen a couple of large mosques, checked out the palace, visited the market and been for a boat ride to visit the ‘floating village’ I’d just about done the entire country and was ready for a beer.
Karaoke, Anda, Philippines
I love karaoke almost as much as the Filipinos. The family that I stayed with in the tiny village of Cassica may not have had a bathroom or a kitchen or a fridge, but they did have a huge PA system with mixing desk, radio mics, a TV set just for karaoke and over 5,000 songs to choose from (below is the ‘karaoke lounge’). And when they fire it up the whole village can hear it. And on the night that we karaoked the family made me sing. All night. I sang over 30 songs and many of them they chose for me, including classics by Kenny Rodgers and Celine Dion. (The PA system and karaoke TV with curtains is in the corner in shot below)
Craigieburn ski field, Southern Alps, New Zealand
Craigieburn is one of the many ‘club fields’ in the South Island of New Zealand that offers private patches of mountain managed and run by ski clubs. And there sure is a lot to love about them. Firstly, there are no crowds. On the perfectly clear day that we were there I counted all of 32 cars in the car park (see pic below). That means big wide open slopes (see the same pic below) virtually to yourself. Admittedly I’ve had better skiing (the snow was a bit ‘hard’), but I loved being in the middle of the Southern Alps with amazing views and, my favourite bit, having lunch on the verandah of the clubhouse where you purchased a slab of raw meat and cooked it yourself (that’s me and my friend Wally below cooking up our burgers!).
MONA, Hobart, Tasmania
I did a blog about my visit to the MONA and not only was visiting the ‘museum’ one of my highlights of the year, but its up there with the best galleries I’ve visited.
Scooter ride, Loboc, Philippines
I hired a scooter a few times while I was in the Philippines, but my favourite expedition was my ride from Loboc to the Chocolate Hills. I rode up steep mountains roads in the shade of giant trees, through lush green rice fields, wound my way through the amazing Chocolate Hills and stopped to check out a tarsier sanctuary. From the photo below you can see that I’m almost as happy about it as the tarsier statues.
Crown Metropol Hotel, Melbourne, Australia
I love being upgraded. And it’s even better when you’re being upgraded in a hotel that is already luxurious enough. My wife and I celebrated our anniversary with a night out at the Metropol Hotel and not only did we get upgraded to one of the executive suites, but that included the ‘executive breakfast’ in the top floor bar. And besides all that we swam in the amazing pool, ate a wonderful meal at Mr. Hive restaurant and stole all the fancy toiletries.
Whale watching, Harvey Bay, Queensland
You can pay around $150 for a whale watching trip in Harvey Bay, but I luckily have a brother who lives up there and who owns a boat and knows where the whales are. We had a lovely day cruising around with his family and my daughter and we saw at least a dozen humpback whales (many with their calves in tow) and on quite a few occasions had the whales to ourselves (without the large whale watching boats in tow). My daughter Jasmine insisted that she attracted the whales with her ‘whale calls’ (made famous by Ellen Degeneres’s character Dory in the movie ‘Nemo’).
Well, happy new year folks and I hope it’s filled with rewarding travel experiences whether that be near or far.