This week the Sun-Herald newspaper in Sydney asked six travel writers to choose their dream destinations.
I was flattered to be on the invitation list and had little difficulty picking my current favourite place on the planet. I was surprised to see most of my fellow writers, all of whom get around a bit, joining me in choosing ‘great escape’ locations.
I expected that the glamour, culture and buzz of Paris, London or New York, or perhaps the beauty of Prague or Vienna would push them to the top of somebody’s list. My colleague Julietta Jameson nominated Rome – a worthy inclusion and she writes about it very well.
Or maybe someone would gush over the life-changing cultural experience of their trip to India or the week they spent living with an Amazon tribe.
But no, most of us picked a dream destination featuring nature and wildlife. The Galapagos Islands, Botswana, Tikehau in French Polynesia and Banda, Indonesia all made the cut.
I went for Viknaslodir, Iceland:
There are places you go to meet fascinating people and places you hope to meet nobody at all.
If your dream destination involves escaping the teeming crowds, Iceland is your kind of place. Imagine half the population of the Hunter Valley sprinkled round the rim of an island bigger than Tasmania, only with worse weather.
No-one lives in the volcanic mountains of Iceland’s north-east corner, the Viknaslodir region. A few hardy fishermen eke out an existence on the coast but the hinterland is uninhabited. There are good reasons for this; there’s nothing to eat unless you’re a moss-nibbling reindeer, it’s covered with snow much of the year and there’s precious little shelter from the icy winds. And there’s no wi-fi.
Yet on a clear, warm summer’s day this is one of the most spectacular parts of the planet, an unforgettable experience for those of us lucky enough to have seen it. There is range behind glittering range of rugged mountains, improbably green hillsides, bright wildflowers, waterfalls tumbling out of every crevice and blankets of mist trapped in deep fiords.
It’s a bit of a slog to get there – a flight from Reykjavik across the country in a small plane, a four-wheel drive trip into the mountains and a few hours’ trudging on foot. None of this is insurmountable – a guiding company can organise the logistics, though naturally you do your own trudging.
After that you can have it all to yourself. The edge of the world.
Must see: The midnight sun shining on the snow-capped peaks from July to September.
Must do: Hiking adventures can be arranged through guiding company fifty degrees north. fiftydegreesnorth.com Phone: 1300 422 821
Must stay: You have choice. You carry a tent or you sleep in a Icelandic Touring Association hut. Huts are warm, modern and communal and cost 4,500 ISK (about $36) p.p.p.n. The view makes any discomfort seem trivial. See fi.is
Must eat: You may draw the line at the rotten sharks’ heads Icelanders swear by, but they also have wild salmon on heavy rye bread.
To read about what my fellow writers chose, here’s the link to the article.
During recent discussions with adventure company World Expeditions I learned that the one area of tourism which has continued to grow despite the troubled economic times is active travel. It seems there’s an insatiable demand for the bragging rights to be had from a holiday climbing mountains or kayaking around fiords.
People want to come home with photos of close encounters with whales and cheetahs, and if possible to be able to say they’ve had an ‘authentic’ experience not shared with thousands of others.
The dilemma is that when a place has few tourists, there’s usually a good reason why nobody wants to go there. It will have lousy weather, horrible food and no culture. If a remote area is made accessible by the installation of a few creature comforts, it will often become hideously expensive.
Tourist magnets are popular because they have so much to offer.
Do you look for a cultural experience in your travel, or is having-the-place-to-yourselfness the top priority? All suggestions for dream destinations gratefully accepted!