2019’s cream of the crop

Lorna Thorn­ber and Trupti Bi­radar take a look at five des­ti­na­tions es­pe­cially worth ex­plor­ing this year.

Sunday Star-Times - - Destinations -

The world may be your oys­ter but you can’t swal­low it whole and it can be tough de­cid­ing which tasty morsel to sink your teeth into first. We talked to the ex­perts to get their tips, ad­vice and pre­dic­tions for the des­ti­na­tions that need to be on Kiwi trav­ellers’ radars in 2019.

Here are five coun­tries we rec­om­mend vis­it­ing, be­cause they of­fer some­thing new, are host­ing in­ter­est­ing events, or sim­ply be­cause they de­serve more at­ten­tion from trav­ellers. Sri Lanka Sri Lanka has emerged as the travel des­ti­na­tion du jour – its se­duc­tive blend of wildlife-filled na­tional parks, an­cient cities and foot­print-free In­dian Ocean beaches make it a hit with ad­ven­tur­ous trav­ellers of all ages and bud­gets.

The South Asian is­land is Lonely Planet’s pick of coun­tries to visit this year. Ethan Gel­ber, au­thor of the re­cently pub­lished Best in Travel 2019, notes that it is clearly ‘‘hav­ing its mo­ment in the equa­to­rial sun’’.

‘‘Al­ready no­table to in­trepid trav­ellers for its mix of re­li­gions and cul­tures, its time­less tem­ples, its rich and ac­ces­si­ble wildlife, its grow­ing surf scene and its peo­ple who defy all odds by their wel­come and friend­li­ness af­ter decades of civil con­flict, this is a coun­try re­vived,’’ Gel­ber wrote.

All this comes in a small and in­creas­ingly con­ve­nient pack­age. Dis­tances are rel­a­tively short, and trans­port links are im­prov­ing, bring­ing even for­merly off-lim­its ar­eas in the north and east tan­ta­lis­ingly close. Na­tional Geo­graphic has de­scribed it as ‘‘kind of like hav­ing the best of Africa and Asia rolled into a sin­gle, easy-to-getaround is­land’’.

High­lights in­clude the eight Un­esco World Her­itage sites, such as the ruins of a fifth-cen­tury palace atop a gran­ite mono­lith and caves filled with Bud­dhist stat­ues and paint­ings dat­ing back more than 200 years; parks that are home to ele­phants, leop­ards, sloth bears, crocodiles and pri­mates ga­lore; and hik­ing trails through hill coun­try tea plan­ta­tions.

Oh, and a ring of of­ten-de­serted golden beaches. They might not stay that way for long though. Tourist vis­its to Sri Lanka have soared since the coun­try’s civil war ended a decade ago, ris­ing from 447,890 in 2009 to more than 2.1 mil­lion in 2017.

Kelly Cull, head of com­mu­ni­ca­tions for Ex­pe­dia New Zealand, said in­ter­est in the coun­try from Ki­wis has grown 185 per cent year on year. Get there be­fore it be­comes an­other Thai­land or Bali. Ja­pan It’s hard to get bored in a coun­try where you can stay in a ho­tel staffed by ro­bots one night and a Shin­gon monastery the next, and with this year’s events cal­en­dar there’s ab­so­lutely no chance.

Stag­ing the ninth Rugby World Cup – and the first in Asia – from Septem­ber 20 to Novem­ber 2, Ja­pan is out to prove it is the con­sum­mate host, know­ing many will see it as a trial run for the 2020 Olympics.

The 12 host cities for the World Cup in­clude Tokyo, where the col­li­sion of tra­di­tion and ul­tra­moder­nity makes a rub­ber­necker out of many for­eign tourists; Sap­poro, fa­mous for its ski­ing, Fe­bru­ary snow fes­ti­val and beer; Ku­mamoto, where the cen­tre­piece 17th-cen­tury cas­tle once kept ri­val nin­jas and samu­rai at bay; and Hi­gashiOsaka City, where the un­of­fi­cial slo­gan is kuidaore

(eat your­self bank­rupt).

House of Travel prod­uct di­rec­tor Dave Fordyce said the agency ex­pects hun­dreds of

New Zealan­ders to visit Ja­pan for the World Cup.

‘‘The cities host­ing games will be top of the vis­i­tor’s list but Ja­pan has such an in­ter­est­ing mix of cul­ture, tra­di­tion and re­gion­ally di­verse cui­sine, we en­vis­age Ki­wis will also travel fur­ther afield,’’ Fordyce says.

If you do want to catch a game, you’ll need to get in fast. The pub­lic bal­lot closed in Novem­ber but more tick­ets go on sale this Satur­day. Regis­ter in ad­vance at rug­by­world­cup.com.

Art lovers also have an ideal ex­cuse to fork out for a trip to Ja­pan this year. The Se­touchi Tri­en­nale is re­turn­ing to Seto In­land Sea – lauded by Trav­eller.com.au as ‘‘Ja­pan’s best kept se­cret’’ – for, as the name sug­gests, the first time in three years. Span­ning a dozen is­lands and the cities of Taka­matsu and Uno, the event will fea­ture works from more than 200 art gal­leries and mu­se­ums, as well as in­de­pen­dent lo­cal artists. The fes­ti­val, a big hit with the in­ter­na­tional art crowd since its 2010 launch, runs in three phases from April 26 to Novem­ber 4.

End the day on Naoshima Is­land – home to a sub­ter­ranean art mu­seum with a world-class col­lec­tion that in­cludes a res­ur­rected tra­di­tional vil­lage filled with site-spe­cific in­stal­la­tions – with a soak at the I Love Yu onsen. Part art in­stal­la­tion, part pub­lic bath­house, it of­fers a pos­si­bly once-ina-life­time op­por­tu­nity to view con­tem­po­rary Ja­panese paint­ings, posters, painted glass ceil­ings, col­lages and ceram­ics with like-minded strangers in the buff. Jor­dan Con­flict in neigh­bour­ing coun­tries has hit Jor­dan’s tourism sec­tor hard in re­cent years, but it was only a mat­ter of time be­fore its World Her­itage sites, Lawrence of Ara­bia land­scapes (the iconic 1960s film was shot there) and clues to the his­tory and de­vel­op­ment of Chris­tian­ity and Is­lam drew vis­i­tors back. In their droves.

‘‘It’s safe to say Jor­dan’s tourism is back, mainly as a re­sult of sta­bil­ity in neigh­bour­ing Egypt,’’ Adrian Piotto, manag­ing di­rec­tor of G Ad­ven­tures Aus­tralia and New Zealand said.

Jor­dan has long been con­sid­ered a safe haven in a volatile re­gion and, while SafeTravel ad­vises Ki­wis to avoid non-es­sen­tial travel to the bor­ders

with Syria and Iraq, and to ‘‘ex­er­cise in­creased cau­tion’’ in other parts of the coun­try, it also rec­om­mends ex­er­cis­ing in­creased cau­tion in In­done­sia and France.

Craig Platt, manag­ing ed­i­tor of Trav­eller.com. au, de­scribed Jor­dan as ‘‘bliss­fully peace­ful and safe’’ and an ‘‘oa­sis of calm’’ af­ter a re­cent trip there, ques­tion­ing why more peo­ple don’t visit.

There’s cer­tainly much to ad­mire there. The walk through the Siq to the Trea­sury, the iconic clas­si­cal fa­cade carved into pink sand­stone that led Pe­tra to be termed ‘‘The Rose City’’; the red dunes, canyons and oases of the Wadi Rum desert; and the ruins of the an­cient Graeco-Ro­man set­tle­ment of Jerash; and the re­put­edly heal­ing wa­ters of the Dead Sea.

One of the best ways to take it all in – ac­cord­ing

to Lonely Planet, which in­cluded it in the Best of

Travel 2019 – is to hike the 650km Jor­dan Trail. You’ll visit the Dead Sea, a ‘‘mind­blow­ing Rift Val­ley land­scape crum­pled with canyons and made green af­ter flash floods’’ and fields of ‘‘wild­flow­ers strewn over cru­sader cas­tles’’ in a likely life-chang­ing 36 days. Is­rael The com­pli­cated pol­i­tics are in­escapable, in the me­dia and on the ground, but that’s no rea­son to deprive your­self of a visit to a land con­sid­ered sa­cred to Chris­tians, Jews and Mus­lims alike.

Soak up the his­tory in Jerusalem and Nazareth, visit the beaches, bars and Bauhaus-de­signed build­ings in Tel Aviv (the party cap­i­tal of the Mid­dle East), and fol­low in Je­sus’ foot­steps on the 65km Je­sus Trail.

More than a Chris­tian pil­grim­age, the hike be­gins in Nazareth and passes through the Galilee land­scape where Je­sus is said to have grown up, as well as Arab and Jewish vil­lages, be­fore fin­ish­ing at the ruins of Caper­naum.

But you don’t have to wear out your knee joints to see the Holy Land’s sa­cred splen­dours. The Church of the Holy Sepul­chre, the Western Hall and the Dome of the Rock are all found within the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City.

Other high­lights in­clude the Coe­nac­u­lum of the Last Sup­per on Mt Zion, which is home to King David’s tomb; the land­scaped ter­races of the Baha’i Gar­dens in Haifa and swim­ming in the Dead Sea.

As with Jor­dan, you will need to de­cide for your­self whether you feel com­fort­able vis­it­ing. SafeTravel rec­om­mends avoid­ing non-es­sen­tial travel to the bor­der with Gaza, and ex­er­cis­ing in­creased cau­tion else­where.

If you do de­cide to go though, it’s sure to be a jour­ney of truly bi­b­li­cal pro­por­tions. Ade­laide New Zealan­ders may con­sider Aus­tralia a sec­ond home, but Jar­rod Pat­ter­son, gen­eral man­ager of Flight Cen­tre’s cor­po­rate travel arm, FCM Travel So­lu­tions, says Ade­laide and its sur­round­ing wine re­gions are still rel­a­tively undis­cov­ered by Ki­wis.

The city may once have been no­table for its lack of no­table at­trac­tions, but that’s cer­tainly no longer the case.

Once known as the City of Churches, the South Aus­tralian cap­i­tal is carv­ing out a niche as the City of Fes­ti­vals, host­ing events ded­i­cated to the arts, cul­ture, food, wine, and sport.

The Ade­laide Fringe, Wome­laide, Spirit Fes­ti­val, Cheese­fest, and Tour Down Un­der – Aus­tralia’s big­gest pro-cy­cling event – are just a few.

The city keeps the party go­ing out­side of ma­jor events with a new wave of hip, hap­pen­ing bars down­town and in suburbs such as the West End.

The retro Cen­tral Mar­ket, a sprin­kling of sandy beaches (Hen­ley and Aldinga are good in­ner-city op­tions, but Semaphore is well worth the slightly longer drive), the Art Gallery of Cen­tral Aus­tralia, and Ade­laide Oval will keep you busy in the city, but save time for a visit to at least one of the nearby wine re­gions (the Barossa and Clare val­leys and McLaren Vale).

The Ade­laide Hills has nu­mer­ous winer­ies, in­clud­ing Pen­folds Mag­ill Es­tate – as well as koalas, kan­ga­roos, wom­bats, and Tas­ma­nian Devils. Stroll among them all at Cle­land Wildlife Park, be­fore check­ing out the Ger­manic vil­lage of Hah­n­dorf.

The Dead Sea – bor­der­ing Jor­dan, Is­rael and the West Bank – is re­ced­ing, so go while you can.

Bewil­der­ing but bril­liant: Ja­pan’s in­com­pa­ra­ble cap­i­tal.

Jan­uary 13, 2019 Sri Lanka is well and truly ‘‘hav­ing its mo­ment in the equa­to­rial sun’’, Lonely Planet au­thor Ethan Gel­ber says.

The Barossa Val­ley, one of Aus­tralia’s most fa­mous wine re­gions, is 56km north-east of Ade­laide.

The Trea­sury in the an­cient city of Pe­tra, is one of the new seven won­ders of the world.

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