This is a place awash with restful, contemplative destinations. Throughout the 144 islands and many more beaches that make up the Bay of Islands, you can take your pick of places to put up your feet and admire easy-on-the-eye views. But few pack in as much to appreciate and contemplate as Matauri Bay. Off the main road (technically State Highway 10), you drive out through farmland to reach the perfect curves of the beach where tropical-blue water laps the coast and, occasionally, an idyllic wave rolls in for the surfers.
A few kilometres offshore are the Cavallis, a cluster of islands that beckons with more white-sand beaches. Between the Cavalli Islands and Matauri Bay rests the Rainbow Warrior, the Greenpeace ship bombed by the French Government in Auckland Harbour in 1985. The attack, which killed Greenpeace photographer Fernando Pereira, put paid to the Warrior sailing to the island of Mururoa in French Polynesia to protest French nuclear testing there. As a bombastic affront, New Zealand had never experienced anything like it.
Ngati Kura, the tangata whenua (people) of Matauri Bay, who have a settlement at one end of the beach, generously provided the final resting place for the Warrior and it was sunk offshore in 1987. It has since become a popular dive spot. The best place to appreciate all this (and then some) is at the lookout above the bay – the short climb to the top starts at the path just beyond the campsite. In addition to the views, one of the prizes at the top of the hill is the sculpture by New Zealand artist Chris Booth. The artwork was unveiled in 1990, stands more than 10 metres tall and incorporates a six-tonne central basalt column and the Warrior’s bronze propeller. The sculpture, which curves like a rainbow and casts dramatic shadows throughout the day, was funded by Ngati Kura and New Zealand China Clays, which harvests the local, highly prized halloysite clay for export.
From the lookout cast your eye out to the Tasman and your imagination back to 1814, when the Reverend Samuel Marsden sailed across from Sydney and made landfall at Matauri Bay. Marsden was so taken by his welcome from local chief Hongi Hika, along with the ensuing haka and feast, that he eventually left his mission in Parramatta to establish a new one in the Bay of Islands. – Jo Bates.
In the north of tropical Okinawa, just outside Nago City, Maha Kikugawa has been slowly building a sustainable retreat from scratch. Set in dense forest beside the Genka River, Treeful Treehouse EcoResort is a series of three luxurious and utterly breathtaking residences with beautiful views in every direction. But Maha hasn’t only gone all in impressing guests; she’s also undertaken regeneration of the land and waterways around the property to create an outpost of tranquillity on the island. The resort is due to open in the northern hemisphere spring, and we’re pretty sure there’ll be a rush on bookings.
Live the High Life
Orange one day, a working sheep station deep in the dusty outback the next. Oh, and don’t forget to add a pit stop in Kangaroo Valley. If this sounds like one impossible itinerary, prepare to have your mind blown. It’s all achievable thanks to the team at Crooked Compass By Air, who organise personally tailored jaunts that are made all the more exclusive by the use of private planes. Yep, you’ll be jetsetting to remote wineries and secluded homesteads in the fixed-wing aircraft of your choice on the Winelands, Station Stays and the Wild Coast tour. Showcasing the best of regional New South Wales, the trip also includes a scenic flyover of the Blue Mountains, a two-night stay at the isolated Corynnia Station (pictured), incredible foodie experiences and a relaxing stopover at a property set in the rolling hills of the South Coast. Best of all, absolutely everything can be customised to your style, pace and budget.
Its real name is Juva Cabin, but lots of people refer to it as The Jewel. And it’s not hard to see why. Set in the wilderness and surrounded by snow-covered peaks, it will be a sight for sore eyes after you’ve spent all day on a snowmobile zipping around mountain ranges and fjords, all the while keeping watch for polar bears. (Don’t fret, because your Hurtigruten guide is an expert at seeing them against the white backdrop.) The cabin is cosy, with a living room, kitchen and three bedrooms, but it’s what’s outside that really captures the imagination. There’s a tube-formed sauna (pictured) with a circular window at one end so you can stay tuned for the appearance of the northern lights.
Peace Out in Paradise
While private islands are often in the realm of billionaires and A-list celebs, there’s a tiny landmass 14 kilometres off the coast of Yeppoon that offers a taste of barefoot luxury to us mere mortals. Pumpkin Island, hidden away in the southern Great Barrier Reef, is a blissfully tranquil sanctuary that’s home to just seven eco-friendly and self-contained beach bungalows. Arrival is by boat transfer only, and you’ll need to bring everything required for the duration of your stay – we’re talking clothes, food and drinks. There is, however, a licensed bar on the island for a cheeky sundowner. SUP boards, snorkel gear and glass-bottom kayaks are available for use when sunning yourself on the empty white-sand beach becomes too much, otherwise scuba diving and fishing tours can be arranged. With a maximum of just 34 people permitted on Pumpkin at one time, you can embrace full relaxo mode safe in the knowledge every other guest is doing the same.
Lace Up Your Boots
Keen to explore Queensland’s Scenic Rim area? Well, there’s only one way to do it: by hiking Mount Barney. Now, first things first – to reach the summit (at 1,354 metres this is the second-highest peak in the region) you’re going to need to be match fit, because this is one tough climb. If you’re staying at Mount Barney Lodge, a sprawling property offering a range of accommodation options, there are experienced guides available who will lead you on the full-day hike. Not only will they share info on the plants and animals you’ll see along the way, but they’ll also ensure you don’t veer off the track and fall down a ravine. Don’t scoff – people have died attempting to reach the top. Before we scare you out of it though, know the rewards are plenty. The natural landscape is absolutely breathtaking, scrambling up and over boulders is really good fun, and the views will make you gasp out loud.
It toots its horn as the second-most populous spot in the Torba Province, which may not sound appealing if you’re looking to leave civilisation behind. Then you realise the population of Gaua is just 2,500 people and you relax again. By far the best reason to visit here is to climb Mount Garet, the island’s volcanic peak, from whose dizzy heights you can stare down into Lake Letas, situated in the crater. It’s not an easy climb, but Victor, the local guide, will go at a pace to suit – it’ll take between one and three days – stopping at villages along the way. If trekking isn’t your cup of kava, hopefully you’ll be able to catch some water music, a style of performance that goes back centuries and, through rhythmic splashing of the surface and singing, is the women’s way of telling their stories.
The thing about roads in the outback is they’re often fairly, well, rudimentary. That’s why you’re going to need a solid 4WD and a bit of planning to take on Binns Track. You can’t really call it a road trip because this 10-day epic adventure follows what is, as the name suggests, a 2,230-kilometre track. The starting point is Mount Dare, on the South Australian border, then the road follows the edge of the Simpson Desert to Alice Springs through old gold towns, past immense cattle stations and into the Top End before finally finishing at Timber Creek. Take your time because there’s heaps to do along the way, including visiting rock art sites and taking in the majesty of Karlu Karlu (Devils Marbles). If you’re wondering, Bill Binns was a ranger with NT Parks and Wildlife and spent much of his adult life showing visitors around Central Australia.
Get ready for the perfect storm of fun and freedom. At Sky High Wilderness Ranch, there’s the chance to team up with man’s best friend. Well, a whole bunch of them, really. During the northern hemisphere winter, get hands-on during one of the property’s multiday adventures. You’ll learn all about your team of dogs – handling, harnessing, as well as general care – then start mushing as you come to grips with driving the sled. The first few days are spent getting used to it and the strain it puts on your body, with nights spent at the lodge. Then it’s out into the snow. You’ll explore ranges and lakes and watch for moose, before setting up camp for the night when the temperature can fall to -40ºC. Each trip lasts for between seven and 14 days, so you’re going to have to ask yourself: are you tough enough?
This is a great test of your mettle and ability to plan ahead. Hinchinbrook Island’s Thorsborne Trail is (at least) a four-day foray that winds up mountains, through rainforests, along beaches and past waterfalls. Chances are you won’t see anyone else here either, because just 40 people are permitted to camp on the island at any one time.
There’s no doubt about it, Hinchinbrook is a beauty. Located just eight kilometres off the coast, about halfway between Townsville and Cairns, it’s part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park ensuring nature lovers won’t be disappointed. Dugongs swim in the shallow waters, turtles can be seen on the beach along from Ramsay Bay, mangroves play host to a vast array of marine animals, and brilliantly coloured butterflies often swoop across the trail. This is also croc country, so care needs to be taken around beaches and creeks.
On paper it looks simple enough: 32 kilometres along the island’s east coast, completed over a number of days, with nights spent at campgrounds along the way. Sure, you have to carry everything except a week’s worth of water – there are a number of places to refill on the trail – but it’s only for a few days. True, it doesn’t seem that far, but parts of the hike are very challenging. Clambering over boulders, crossing creeks and trudging through swamps is all part of the journey. You’ll need to be in good shape to take it on.
The payoffs, however, are enormous. Take the end of day two as an example. This is when you’ll reach camp at our cover star, Zoe Falls. Being up high, this is a perfectly safe spot to take a dip. Your only companions will be the yabbies and jungle perch in the water. In fact, we’d venture to say this is one of the most picturesque swimming holes anywhere in the country. As your aching body cools off in the pool, stare out over the forest and ocean. The only thing better is waking up early the next morning and doing it all again while watching the sun rise.
Most of us associate this part of Victoria with skiing, but summers in the High Country are set to 10 on the spectacular scale. (The spectacular scale isn’t really a thing – we just made it up.) Get away from the villages and immerse yourself in nature thanks to Diana Lodge’s alpine glamping experience. Perfectly suited to those who want to do some serious hiking or give their mountain bikes a workout, it’s equally appropriate for those who simply want to read, play board games or sit out in the dark and watch the stars. Everything’s provided, including tent set-up, bedding, a full meal hamper, portable phone charger and drop-off of your gear if you want to get there on foot or by bike.
Drive Through Art
For those of us who don’t mind a touch of culture, the past 12 months have been a bit iffy. And even though the likes of museums and galleries are starting to open, we’re still not keen on standing cheek by jowl with other enthusiasts. Luckily, there’s another option: Western Australia’s Public Silo Trail that links Northam, about 90 minutes northeast of Perth, and the coastal outpost of Albany. So far there are seven sets of silos that have been transformed, including these ones outside the wheatbelt town of Merredin. Kyle Hughes-Odgers took 14 days and 200 litres of paint to create his interpretation of the town’s landforms and agricultural history. Now that’s one way to add colour to a road trip.
Splash Out In Paradise
It’s south of Viti Levu, the main island of Fiji, and erupts from the sea, all craggy mountains covered in lush rainforest. There are few roads on the sparsely populated island of Kadavu, which makes taking to the water the perfect way to get around. Led by locals, Tamarillo Active Travel’s private sea-kayaking adventures explore deserted beaches, turquoise bays and vivid coral reefs – ample time for snorkelling is given high priority. On dry land, hike into the mountains and visit local villages. Each night you’Il bunk down in small resorts with all the facilities. If there was such a thing as a perfect way to explore a tropical paradise, this would have to be it.
Get to the Chopper
Forget everything you remember about the dodgy family camping trips we were all forced to endure growing up – long sweaty car drives and crowded tents ring a bell? – and say hello to helicamping in South Australia’s rugged Flinders Ranges. Yep, this epic overnight adventure begins at Rawnsley Park Station with a chopper flight to the middle of nowhere. And when we say the middle of nowhere, we mean it – you will be dropped off somewhere along the Chace Range with no one in sight and nothing but a swag, camp oven and food supplies. Once you’re set up (aka the staff feel confident you’ll be able to survive the night alone), the helicopter departs and you’re free to go for a wander, cook up a feast and settle in for a night under the star-filled sky. The next morning you’ll be plucked from the wilderness and choppered back to civilisation, most likely wishing you’d negotiated a longer stay.
You could be forgiven for thinking you’re looking at a town on the Cinque Terre. This, however, is Qinbi Village, located on Beigan, just one of the 36 islands in the Matsu group. Stone houses tumble down the coastline towards the sea, linked by narrow laneways that are definitely worth exploring. Swim out to Turtle Islet to get the best view of Qinbi or check out one of the other deserted beaches. Also worth visiting is the fishing settlement of Qiaozai, where a number of small bridges cross gullies that surround the town. Most people visit Beigan for the day, having caught the ferry from the main island of Nangan, but there are basic homestays available if the quiet island lifestyle appeals.
Live Your Bliss
Imagine this… An overwater bungalow (you’re shacked up in one of just two), collecting shells on the beach, catching a deserted wave, dropping in a line to catch dinner, and being looked after by a local family. Oh, and don’t forget your snorkelling gear, because you can step off your deck and plunge into warm, clear water filled with fish and coral. That’s the low-key, castaway vibe you get when you check in to Noguna Island Homestay. If you can drag yourself away, there’s the chance to go island hopping or visit the local school. If luxury is being able to focus on the moment and the beauty around you, this is the tropical equivalent of a palace.
Head In The Clouds
You’d better tell your mates where you’re going before you head to this secluded spot, because once you get there they’ll be hard-pressed to track you down. Piwakawaka Family Hut is a 12-bed homestead at Pukeiti, a 360-hectare rainforest and garden property in Taranaki on the east coast of the North Island. It takes an hour on foot to get there and, when you do, there’s limited mobile coverage and no electricity. It’s back to basics here – bunk beds, a log burner and only the essential cooking utensils – but there’s a big payoff. The hut sits on the slopes of Mount Taranaki with expansive views across the rainforest canopy and to the Ōkato coastline. Our pick: sit on the deck with a cold one, where you can kick back to nothing but the sound of the native New Zealand birds who call the rainforest home, including the endemic kererū (New Zealand pigeon) and tūī (honeyeater).
The Crown Jewel
Does your isolation dream involve a private beach? Yep? Then this one’s for you. Even from within the chic living areas of Porky Beach Retreat you’ll have uninterrupted views of the Great Southern Ocean and its changing moods. It’s got four bedrooms so is just right for a group of friends eager to take a deep breath, enjoy the fresh air and get back to basics. Well, as basic as you can in a joint with an outdoor red cedar hot tub and beachfront sauna heated by Australia’s only glass-front coal fireplace that’s come all the way from Estonia. There are loads of walks, a cheese factory to be visited, fish to be caught for dinner and, if you like to swing, there are two world-class golf courses – Cape Wickham and Ocean Dunes – from where to tee off.