Australasia is home to epic mountain scenery, cool pop-up bars, world-class museums and some of the most stunning beach ranges known to man. From Samoan lava fields to crocodile cage-diving in Darwin, wine tasting in Napier and edgy modern art in the Tasmanian capital of Hobart, here's ten experiences to tick off your hotlist if you’re heading Down Under and around in 2013.
Words: David Whitley
Usually seen as a staging post for adventures into the wild Northern Territory outback, Darwin is no longer just a rough and ready beer-swilling, singlet-clad city. Influences from all over Asia and an increasing hippy culture have turned it into arguably the perfect tropical town. Monster sunsets at the Mindil Beach Night Markets help the moocher’s hangout feel. Oh, and it’s the only place in the world where you can go cage-diving with saltwater crocodiles, should you be feeling particularly brave/ foolhardy.
An entire country surrounded by a lagoon? Check. Thousands of green-topped rock islands to cruise or kayak around? Check. Swimming in a lake full of stingless jellyfish? Check. Waters so clear that they offer the best diving and snorkelling in the world? Hell, yes.
Palau is the Pacific paradise barely anyone has heard of – but due to a little known route with China Airlines via Taiwan, it’s the quickest and cheapest Pacific island nation to get to. File under "get there before everyone else finds out."
Wellington, New Zealand
The world’s most southerly capital city has a good claim to being the coolest too. The locals guzzle quality coffee, craft beer and top notch local wines on gallery-filled Cuba Street, pausing for paddle-boarding sessions on the harbour. It’s a cultural epicentre too – the Te Papa museum is world class while the WETA Cave lets you into the world of movie special effects (as seen in the Lord of the Rings flicks as well as plenty other less Hobbity celluloid adventures).
Adelaide - a prim city of churches, a world class food market and the odd gourmet pizza – is a lot easier to reach with newly-launched Emirates flights. It’s a brilliant base for exploring Australia’s most underrated state. Factor in juiced-up jaunts to the Barossa, McLaren Vale and Coonawarra wine regions, then aim for cute on wildlife-packed kangaroo island or epic with the desert-meets-mountain scenery of the Flinders Ranges.
A shift to the other side of the International Dateline Last Year means that Samoa is now the first country in the world to see in the New Year. Advance party planners will be pleased to know there’s more than that gimmick on offer – the Pacific’s best all-rounder also offers sleeping in traditional beach huts, massive lava fields and blowholes where the ocean crashes through rock formations like a fireworks display. It’s beauty and off-the-circuit authenticity wrapped into one.
Napier, New Zealand
Think Miami Beach without the posing and the constant David Guetta soundtrack. Napier is the world’s secret art deco capital – an earthquake in 1931 ensured the city was totally rebuilt in the hot style of the time. It’s now an architectural masterclass, trapped in its 1930s timewarp. Being the gateway to the Shiraz and Chardonnay heaven of the Hawke’s Bay wine region doesn’t hurt its cause either.
Lord Howe Island, Australia
Isolated in the middle of the Tasman Sea, Lord Howe is known as Australia’s Galapagos due to the number of unique species that live only there. The exclusive hideaway – only 400 visitors are allowed at any one time – is also home to the world’s most southerly reef system. Beyond the snorkelling and diving, Lord Howe is about chilled-out luxury lodges, glass-bottomed boat tours and hand-feeding giant kingfish from the beach. Brag factor? Enormous.
The Cook Islands
Want the whole Tahitian lagoon and white sand thing with a price tag that’s not quite as outrageous? The blissfully laid-back Cook Islands are the winner, then. Available as a stopover between LA and New Zealand, the palm tree clichés are out in force. For the full overwater bungalow and dazzlingly clear water effect, head to the second island of Aitutaki. And kayak out to your own private islet with a picnic lunch, should you wish.
Tasmania’s capital has been brought kicking and screaming out of backwater status by hip waterfront developments and the Museum of Old and New Art. The edgy enfant terrible exhibitions have quickly catapulted MONA into the big league. But Hobart still has its harbourside natural beauty, handsome colonial buildings and easy access to Tasmania’s pristine green wilderness up its sleeve too.
Christchurch, New Zealand
Ravaged by earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, Christchurch has had no choice but to sweep the rubble away. The city’s personality is changing in the process – once a stiff upper lip, more English than England kinda place, it has now discovered a creative verve. That means pop up bars in shipping containers, hybrid shop/ restaurants and a new, temporary cathedral made largely out of cardboard. Bigger revival plans are afoot, but the fun is in exploring the inventive stop-gaps.