|Monkey Bay, Tioman Island, Malaysia.
2015 had me swashbuckling / cramping up embarrassingly through Malaysian jungles, spearfish snorkeling / ripping my swim-shorts in the butt-crack region in Fiji and hiking the lush and rocky landscapes of Victoria’s Grampians National Park. While getting chased by a kangaroo.
For every premature self back-pat, something unexpected or awkward was often just around the corner. And most of the time that only made things more fun.
As a shocking golfer I set out (successfully) to find all the non-golfing activities at Kauri Cliffs – one of the finest golf courses in the world and home of one of New Zealand’s most exclusive retreats.
I went stargazing in Tekapo (NZ) and found a deserted lagoon in Malaysia’s Tioman Island with jungle and mangrove forest ringing the clearest waters and the whitest sands. The walks of Tongariro National Park surprised me with their mix of semi-desert and rainforest while Victoria’s Grampians National Park showed a green, mountainous side of Australia many Kiwis don’t expect.
There were some incredible hotels – from Melbourne’s Crown Metropol with its gigantic, indoor rooftop pool to the Pullman Hotel in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur with its high-rise executive lounge reassuring me urban jungle still remains in my favourite Asian city. Taupo’s (NZ) The Cove hotel was refurbished 80s chic at its best and the room came complete with a private spa on the balcony. Historic hotels like New Zealand’s Chateau (Tongariro National Park), Waipoua Lodge (Northland, NZ), Fiji’s Grand Pacific Hotel (Suva) and Victoria’s Royal Mail Hotel (Dunkeld) all combined storytelling with luxury.
|Lake Alexandrina, near Tekapo, South Island, NZ.
Kauri Cliffs and Lake Karapiro Lodge proved New Zealand can do opulence to an awe-inspiring, international standard, not to mention the added bonus of their outstanding bathroom singing acoustics. And Fiji’s Mango Bay Resort was a reminder that accommodation not much above backpacker level is sometimes all you need when the service is so good and the setting so beautiful.
I discovered it’s way more interesting to walk the one hour riverside trail to Huka Falls (NZ) from the Taupo bungy jump than to simply drive to the carpark. And I loved that amidst all the countless man-made tourist attractions in Rotorua (NZ), a completely free stroll through the city’s Redwood Forest with its combination of enormous Californian trees and oversized native ferns is still the best thing to do.
2015 was the year I went on an unexpected crusade to change opinions on Waikato – a New Zealand province recently voted the domestic place Kiwis least want to holiday in. But you only say that when you haven’t seen the unique beauty of places like The Blue Spring, Lake Karapiro and the gardens of Sarnia Park and Hamilton Gardens. Not to mention Hobbiton which is infinitely more worthwhile now the Hobbit holes have all been preserved (unlike the years after Lord Of The Rings but before The Hobbit trilogy when most of the sets were dismantled and tourists mainly just looked at rolling hills).
Wellington was “unbeatable on a good day” as the cliche goes and staying on Oriental Parade with the sun shining I decided the cliche was bang on. In Dunedin I learned that the city’s arguably most architecturally-impressive building is also its tallest: the 56.4m First Church of Otago – built 1873. Not only that, it’s still one of the five tallest buildings in the South Island. And up the road (several hours) in Akaroa I got snap-happy in a town with as much history and charm to give Russell in the North Island a run for its money.
Thanks so much for reading my articles and for looking at my photos. I’m under no illusion just how lucky I am to explore so much of my own backyard in New Zealand and indeed the world. Whatever kind of year 2015 was for you, may 2016 be better. All the best.
Keep an eye out for future features in the New Zealand Herald and Let’s Travel Magazine. In the meantime, here are my top 50 photos from my year of travel, 2015. These include Fiji, Malaysia, Victoria (Australia) and right across New Zealand (the Bay Of Islands, Waiheke Island, Hamilton, Lake Karapiro, The Blue Spring, Hobbiton, Taupo, Tongariro, Wellington, Akaroa, Tekapo and Dunedin).
|Every time I’m in KL, Malaysia I return to the Sultan Abdul Samad Building to take what turn out to be the exact same photos. But it’s such a stunning piece of architecture.
|Rooftop shenanigans, KL, Malaysia
|From Mt Cargill in Dunedin, NZ.
|From Baldwin Street – the steepest street in the world – in Dunedin, NZ.
|A contender for the biggest and best bed of 2015, The Cove in Taupo, NZ.
|Zip-lining through native forest in Rotorua, NZ.
|The giant Redwoods and oversized native ferns of Rotorua’s Redwood Forest, NZ.
|Careful they don’t chase you… Halls Gap, Grampians National Park, Victoria, Australia.
|Melbourne’s famous laneways, Victoria, Australia.
|The spectacular view from Kauri Cliffs, Bay Of Islands, NZ.
|The otherworldly landscapes of Mungo National Park, NSW, Australia (accessed from Victoria).
|Outside my childhood home in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
|Islands In The Stream – walking to Huka Falls in Taupo, NZ.
|Tuscany? Southern France? No, it’s the surprising and quite magical view from Lake Karapiro Lodge in Waikato, NZ.
|The top of the Wairere Falls in Waikato, NZ.
|The old-fashioned luxury of Sarnia Park, Waikato, NZ.
|Hobbiton, Waikato, NZ.
|Hobbiton, Waikato, NZ.
|The world-class Hamilton Gardens, Waikato, NZ.
|My pick for NZ’s best urban beach, Oriental Parade, Wellington.
|Moments before touchdown, Wellington, NZ.
|The Mango Bay Resort, Fiji.
|Sunset at the Mango Bay Resort, Fiji.
|The local chap, Esa, I met in Fiji who took me spearfish snorkeling. Here he is preparing lunch back in his village.
|Kauri Cliffs, Bay Of Islands, NZ.
|Even the golf buggy bridges at Kauri Cliffs were flash – Bay Of Islands, NZ.
|The ancient and mightily girthy kauri trees of Northland’s Waipoua Forest, NZ.
|One of Australia’s defining road-trips, a view from the Great Ocean Road, Victoria.
|The view down to Halls Gap, Grampians National Park, Victoria, Australia.
|My favourite beach in the world at Nazri’s Place resort, Air Batang, Tioman Island, Malaysia.
|There are few better snorkeling spots in South East Asia than Tioman Island, Malaysia.
|Kuala Lumpur’s old palace (now a museum) with the city skyline in the background, Malaysia.
|The gardens and skyscrapers of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
|Spring lambs, Akaroa, Canterbury, South Island, NZ.
|Reportedly the most photographed church in New Zealand, the Church Of The Good Shepherd, Tekapo, Canterbury, NZ.
|Tekapo’s Church Of The Good Shepherd with Mt John (and it’s world-class observatory) in the background.
|My infamous #casuallean pose with Huka Lodge behind, Taupo, NZ.
|Maungatautari eco-sanctuary as seen from Waikato’s premier luxury lodge, Lake Karapiro Lodge, NZ.
|The Blue Spring, Waikato, NZ.
|Near Wairere Falls, Waikato, NZ.
|A contender for my favourite staircase of 2015, the very grand Sarnia Park, Waikato, NZ.
|Hobbiton on a perfect late spring day, Waikato, NZ.
|Owhiro Bay, Wellington, NZ.
|The oldest luxury hotel in New Zealand, The Chateau (1929) in Tongariro National Park.
|The colours of the tussock grasses of Tongariro National Park, NZ.
|I love the different vegetation, shades of green and landscapes of Tongariro National Park, NZ.
|The view out my bedroom window of the Pullman Hotel in Bangsar, KL, Malaysia towards the 310m Menara Telekom – one of my favourite skyscrapers in a city obsessed with them.
|The view from my deck at one of Rotorua’s premier boutique hotels, the Black Swan Hotel, NZ.
|The incredible Redwoods of Rotorua, NZ.
|The coastal walks of Waiheke, NZ are sensational and this was my favourite photo of my time on the island in October.
|Oneroa Beach, Waiheke, NZ.
|A lookout point near Coromandel township, Coromandel Peninsula, NZ. #casualean
|A bonus photo to end – I had to have something from my hometown – Auckland, NZ. Once again, the phenomenon that isn’t, it’s another #casuallean. Happy New Year!