As the year ends, I always like to look back on the places I’ve visited as a travel writer and I found that this year had a very Australian theme running through it. For a change, I only made two international forays this year, both to nearby Pacific nations (New Zealand and Fiji), with my focus squarely on seeing a lot of Australia in 2019. These are the highlights.
Heron Island was my first assignment in January. I landed on this tiny but beautiful coral cay at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef by helicopter (pictured above), in time to catch the last of the turtle nesting season and the start of the hatching season. It’s long been a favourite spot of mine, and this was my third visit over the years.
In February, I flew the 3600km (2237 miles) from my home in Brisbane to Western Australia’s booming capital Perth, on assignment for Frommer’s Australia, a guide book I update each year. I spent a week in Perth and the surrounding area, including a visit to the Spanish Benedictine monastery town of New Norcia, and a ferry ride to stay on Rottnest Island, where I took a ‘selfie’ with a quokka.
Australia’s federal election was held in May, and I found myself in the national capital, Canberra, in the week before it was held. What better place to cast my vote than the Museum of Australian Democracy in Old Parliament House? Canberra is full of museums, galleries and other cultural diversions and I was also lucky enough to stay in one of Australia’s most unusual hotels, Jamala Wildlife Lodge, inside the grounds of the National Zoo and Aquarium. Sharing your living space (through thick glass walls) with one of the zoo’s exotic animals is like nothing else! Read my review for The Telegraph here.
Later that month, I headed to South Australia, where winding country roads led me to some of Australia’s best vineyards in the Barossa Valley. It was also a chance to spend time in the South Australian capital, Adelaide, reacquainting myself with the charms of this laid-back city.
Melbourne called in August, just a few quick days in which I did more updates for Frommer’s Australia (2020 edition out now). It’s always a joy to spend time in this wonderful city, which I called home for nine years, and where my daughter and her family still live. One of Melbourne’s great attractions is its vibrant street art, which once again captured my attention.
For the rest of the year, my travels were largely in my home state of Queensland. Migrating humpback whales that travel Australia’s eastern seaboard each year between May and October lured me back to the world’s largest sand island, Fraser Island, and to the waters of Brisbane’s Moreton Bay, where these giants of the deep put on some spectacular displays.
In September, I headed to the Whitsundays to check out newly reopened resorts on Hayman Island, Long Island and Daydream Island – just a few of the 74 islands dotting the coastline – which were damaged by Cyclone Debbie in 2017. My favourite was the laid-back luxury of Elysian Retreat on Long Island, where every private villa has a hammock on the verandah and it’s perfectly fine to turn up to breakfast with bare feet.
During the year, I spent a lot of time at the Gold Coast, an hour’s drive south of Brisbane. One of the highlights of the year is always the SWELL Sculpture Festival, held at Currumbin Beach in September. The artworks, great and small, are always intriguing and interesting – if not always something you’d want to take home!
The tropical north of Queensland called in October, when I flew to Cairns for the annual convention of the Australian Society of Travel Writers. As a Life Member and former president of the ASTW, I try not to miss this stimulating event, catching up with colleagues and usually learning something along the way. After the convention, I spent a week exploring the region around Cairns on a road-trip that took me to the beaches north of the city, the Daintree rainforest and to a new outback lodge about two hours drive inland from Cairns. Mount Mulligan Lodge was a highlight of the trip (and the year) for me, as you can see from my review for The Telegraph.
I’d barely been home a couple of weeks when I was sent back to Cairns on assignment for The Australian newspaper’s Travel & Indulgence section. This time, it was to Fitzroy Island, about 30 minutes by boat from the city, on the Great Barrier Reef. My story there, to run early in 2020, was about the work being done at the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre. It was confronting to see first-hand the effects of plastic pollution and climate change on marine creatures such as Lou, a turtle who lost two of his flippers after becoming entangled in stray fishing net and others similarly stricken by sickness or injury due to human actions.
Exploring regional areas was a good reminder that there’s so much to discover outside the major cities and that our tourist dollars can really help these smaller communities. Happy New Year and thank you to all my readers and followers!