31 January 2018

My Top 10 Travel Experiences of the Past Five Years

Later this year, I am travelling to Peru, where I should be able to cross another item off my bucket list: hiking the Inca Trail and visiting Machu Picchu. I'm really excited about the trip, which will be my first time in South America, and I couldn't help but look back on some of the other amazing travel experiences I've been lucky enough to have over the past few years. I hope some of these will inspire you with your own holiday planning for 2018 and beyond.

1. Snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef (Australia)
Since I obtained my PADI Open Water qualification 15 years ago, I have longed to scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef, off the eastern coast of Australia. Unfortunately, when I finally made it to tropical North Queensland, my ears were playing up so I had to 'settle' for a snorkelling excursion instead. And it was a beautiful, memorable experience, where I got to swim with turtles, spot a shark and admire myriad species of colourful tropical fish. Despite the climate-change-induced catastrophic bleaching events of 2016 and 2017, the reef is still a fascinating ecosystem to visit. If you're interested in finding out more about the ecology and zoology, I'd highly recommend taking a trip with Wavelength.

2. Ziplining through the clouds (Costa Rica)
Costa Rica is a relatively compact country and you can see a great deal during a two-week trip. One of my favourite activities was a zipline tour through the cloud forest of Monteverde, culminating in a 1km-long zipline through the middle of a cloud.

3. Chasing the Northern Lights (Iceland)
Although the Northern Lights weren't at their most epic the night I got to see them in Reykjavik, they were still impressive and besides, the hunt — with SuperJeep — was half the fun. The tour was expensive but I would definitely take it again next time I go to Iceland.

4. Grotto-hopping in Capri (Italy)
While in sunny Sorrento for my cousin's wedding in 2016, my family hired a small boat to take us out to the island of Capri. We spent a blissful day swimming, snorkelling, sunbathing and exploring the various grotte that can be found along the island's coast. We visited the famous Grotta Azzurra (blue grotto), of course, and although it was very busy and hammier than a leg of prosciutto, I really enjoyed the experience.

5. Early-morning sushi in Tokyo (Japan)
There's nothing quite like landing in Tokyo on a sunny morning after a long, overnight flight, dropping off your suitcase at your hotel and heading straight out for an early sushi breakfast. I missed the fish auction but had the freshest, most delicious sushi of my trip at Daiwa Sushi at the Tsukiji Fish Market. The market is going to relocate ahead of the 2020 Olympics, but the move is now not scheduled to take place until October 2018, so you still have time to enjoy it in its original state. I had so many memorable experiences during my 10-day trip to Japan and it's top of my 'must revisit' list.

6. Oaxacan cooking class (Mexico)
I love the flavours and colours of Mexican cuisine and ate some delicious dishes while staying in the colourful city of Oaxaca. One day, I took a wonderful cooking class with Oscar Carrizosa, where we shopped for food at a local market and then prepared (and ate) a huge variety of dishes. It was an excellent introduction to Oaxacan cooking — and understanding the local food culture also helped me feel more connected to the friendly people of Oaxaca. Needless to say, Mexico comes a close second after Japan on my 'revisit' list.

7. Skydiving from 15,000 feet (New Zealand)
After a fab fortnight in Australia and two wonderful weeks in New Zealand, I celebrated the end of my one-month sabbatical by skydiving from 15,000 feet over Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables. It was a literally breathtaking experience and one of the best things I've ever done. I jumped with NZONE and would highly recommend them; you can watch my (slightly sweary) video here.

8. Sailing through beautiful Ha Long Bay (Vietnam)
Three days and two nights aboard the small but well-equipped Dragon's Pearl, cruising past hundreds and hundreds of limestone islands in Ha Long Bay was as relaxing as it was beautiful. I was glad I upped my budget and booked with Indochina Junk, as they took us to the quieter but just as stunning Bai Tu Long Bay. On our final night, we enjoyed a barbecue feast in a UNESCO-listed cave. A top-notch trip, even if the sun didn't grace us with much of its presence.

9. Motorbike tour of Saigon street food (Vietnam)
I planned only to include one experience per country but I just couldn't choose between Ha Long Bay and the street food tour on the back of a motorbike that I took in Saigon. I'd never ridden on a motorbike before, but my XO Tour guide showed me a great time. I ate some delicious street food dishes and saw parts of the sprawling city of Saigon that I probably wouldn't have reached by myself on such a short trip.

10. Third-wave coffee tour in Portland (Oregon, USA)
You weren't thinking I'd make it through this list without a speciality coffee bucket-list item, were you? And although I could have included my fast-paced, self-guided tour of Melbourne's speciality coffee scene, I wanted to give a shout out to the excellent tour led by Lora of Third Wave Coffee Tours in Portland, Oregon. We visited five of the city's signature micro-roasteries and caf├ęs, with a different coffee experience in each. Of course, I visited plenty of others during my short stay in Portland, but Lora gave me a great introduction to the local coffee scene.

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