The best of the off-beat travel in 2017

BEST STAR GAZING

Made almost entirely of glass and concealed by native scrub, the phenomenal new SkyScape on a working farm in Twizel on New Zealand's South Island offers the ultimate in celestial viewing. By day take a farm tour with owner Bevan and his working dogs to the property's highest point overlooking the snow capped Ben Ohau Range. By night pour yourself an alfresco bathand a glass of wine and settle in to watch as the full magnificence of the international dark sky reserve is revealed. See skyscape.co.nz

BEST POLITICAL TOUR

The Walled Off Hotel, Bethlehem

This edgy establishment in West Bank city of Bethlehem is known for being one of the world's great art hotels, created in collaboration with street artist Banksy. But it also runs a fascinating tour, led by local Palestinians, that takes travellers along a portion of the 800-kilometre separation wall, and to the nearby Aida Refugee Camp, which has existed for a shocking 70 years. See walledoffhotel.com

BEST FEEL GOOD TOUR

Outrigger Resort Fiji

It is unclear who gets more out of the Outrigger Fiji's outreach program to a remote Fijian school – guests or students. That is  what makes it so special. Happy, barefoot school children greet guests with harmonious singing and infectious smiles. Guests can choose to help by building fences, digging trenches, doing maintenance work including painting, restocking the library or delivering donations of books and stationary. The reward is a sense of achievement and the gratitude that comes from staff and students at Conua School. See outrigger.com/Fiji

BEST HOT TUBS

Omarama Hot Tubs, New Zealand

Arrive just on dusk to experience both pastel skies and the soothing glacier-fed, wood-fired hot springs at Omarama Hot Tubs on New Zealand's South Island. A small lever cools things down if  it get too steamy while you kick back and enjoy this charming, and oh so private, alpine experience. Located along the Alps2Ocean trail, the hot tubs are even more enjoyable after a day of skiing, hiking or cycling. See hottubsomarama.co.nz

Omarama Hot Tubs, New Zealand.

Omarama Hot Tubs, New Zealand.

BEST SCOOTER TOUR

XO Tours, Vietnam

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Experience the wonders of Saigon or Hoi An on a thrilling scooter tour run by an entirely female fleet of drivers who know their cities inside out. The tours have a range of themes, from shopping and food to sightseeing or nightlife, though it is also possible to arrange bespoke options should you really want to get beneath the surface of the city's culture. See xotours.vn

BEST THEME PARK RIDE

Avatar, Flight of Passage Disney World, US

Disney World's latest attraction is a long way from the days of the teacup ride. Combining state-of-the-art 3D cinema technology with cutting-edge robotics, guests will literarily feel as though they are riding through the magical world of Pandora on the back of a flying banshee. Not only is the ride itself an absolute mind bender, but the crew at Disney have created an entire Na'vi world around the attractions to help foster a fully immersive experience. See disneyworld.disney.go.com

BEST DESTINATION FOR SOUVENIRS

Fez, Morocco

The world's oldest "old city", Fez's medina is an Aladdin's labyrinth of earthen canyons brimming with handmade souvenirs impossible to resist – leather bags, silk scarves, Berber carpets, silver jewellery, clay tagines, jewelled babouche slippers – as well as spices and argan oil. "If people want something handmade, they come to Fez," said our local guide, "even from Marrakesh." Don't even try to leave empty-handed. See intrepidtravel.com

Entrance to the Medina, Souq, Fez, Morocco.

Entrance to the Medina, Souq, Fez, Morocco. Photo: Alamy

​CONTRIBUTORS: Keith Austin, Andrea Black, Elspeth Callender, Ben Groundwater, Brian Johnston, Nina Karnikowski, Katrina Lobley, Sally Macmillan, Rob McFarland, Sheriden Rhodes, Louise Southerden, Alison Stewart, Kerry van der Jagt, Guy Wilkinson

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