Maria Island, Tasmania
Like the colonized Australian continent itself, Maria island off the coast of Tasmania got its start as a penitentiary for convicts, in this case whose crimes were considered to be light offenses. Maria Island now serves as an exquisite national park full of rare birds, wondrous corals and historical buildings. There’s also Mount Maria for anyone into a six-hour round-trip hike to the highest peak. Other hikes are aplenty, lasting anywhere from 10 minutes to overnight excursions.
Sounds breathtaking, but here’s the caveat emptor: There are no restaurants, no shops and certainly no hotels so every visitor must bring their own food and sleeping gear. However, if plans are made in advance, the old penitentiary building offers bunk beds which can accommodate up to six people per room, though, again, sheets and blankets aren’t provided and those wishing to stay are also asked to bring their own gas stove, to boil your water. On the plus side, there are hot water showers and toilets for the cost of one Tasmanian dollar — as long as water supplies last.
30A Beaches, Walton County, Florida
Florida’s 26 mile long County Road 30A runs the coast between Destin and Panama City and is home to 16 of America’s most beautiful beaches. It’s not just the sugar sand and emerald green waters — as idyllic as anywhere in the Caribbean — the people are beautiful. It’s the South’s favorite luxury beach vacation spot, home of donut stands and smoothie trucks, perfectly coiffed beach hair covered by a large floppy hat, and a whole bunch of bicycles. And tricycles.
Each community is its own little corner of heaven with its own distinct personality. They run together in several mile swaths, so you can hop on your bicycle (or tricycle, in my case) and have dinner at a neighboring beach. There are no high rise condominiums and most places to stay are picturesque, multi-story beach houses. “The Truman Show” was filmed in Seaside, if that’s any indication.
What if I told you that there was an island so mystical that when the trees are cut they are said to bleed blood? This is a real place off the Somali coast known as Socotra. Receiving its name from the Sanskrit “Sukhadhara” meaning “to provide bliss”, this Yemeni Island has it all. Because of its isolated location, the flora and fauna that developed here led to the island being described on a par with the Galapagos and New Zealand for unique biodiversity. One such plant is the Dragon’s Blood tree whose almost alien appearance is upstaged as soon as it’s cut in any way, as this tree “bleeds”. Of course it’s not blood but a watery red sap that’s a pretty close match. Beyond it’s arid forests Socotra also boasts unique corals and wondrously large cave systems, much for anyone to explore to their heart’s content.
This island is a unique melting pot of cultures and trade. Famed for its poetry written before the Arabic language existed, Socotra offers more than a faith-based history in the arts. Having been visited by Saint Thomas on his way to evangelize India, there was a strong Christian presence for quite sometime, later influenced by Muslim Sultans. Because of this Socotra offers a melting pot of creeds and faiths living alongside each other for eons.
It is highly recommended to visit between April and October, to avoid the monsoons.
IGNI, Geelong, Victoria, Australia
Aaron Turner’s restaurant, in a “box” (as he likes to call it) at the end of an unassuming lane in Geelong, outside Melbourne, is one of the world’s most exciting places to eat. Turner is a genius who I think quite possibly doesn’t know what he’s doing from one moment to the next, his menus and dishes are that spontaneous, that moved by the spirit. And the restaurant tells you when you book that no two meals are ever the same. They use only what they get in that day, all local, and, more or less, make it up as they go.
The restaurant takes its name from the word “ignite” because he and his chefs cook mostly on a fire of wood he collects himself. Just about every dish gets at least a touch of that magic flame. One foodie journalist described: “Zucchini flowers stuffed with pickled mussels, grilled till the plant just begins to wilt,” and further consumed: “A cracker of chicken skin topped with tarama (cod roe paste), fennel fronds and electric blue scampi eggs.” Those were just snacks.
This one comes with a big caution: At the most northern point of India, on the border with Pakistan, is one of the most beautiful spots on the Earth, intermittently and tragically plagued by violence and death as it is pulled in a ceaseless tug of war between the two nations. The caution is because at the time of writing this, India very controversially stamped out Kashmir’s autonomous rule and wants to split the region in two, one part Hindu, one part Muslim. But we still recommend going there when, and presuming, the conflict that flares like a volcano ominously rumbling, dies down. Which it should.
Then you would see a gorgeous, rough hewed land of flowers, green valleys, snow peaks and mountain lakes, likened, ironically, to Switzerland, which is utterly unconflicted. In Kashmir you can rent deluxe houseboats in Srinagar on Nageen or Dal Lake from April through October. Best time to go is April or September (outside tourist season but still warm — yes, they get tourists! It’s worth timing around the breakouts of hostilities!). Gulmarg has one of the highest 18-hole golf courses in the world at almost 9,000 feet, FYI. Make that ball fly! Alternatively, you can tour an 8th century temple. The food is delicious, particularly meat-centric and hearty, influenced, as you’d expect, by both Pakistani and Indian cuisine.