Traveller writers name their best moments in travel for 2018

A pinch of this, a dash of that: many of our best travel memories blend together a range of ingredients. When we think back to a treasured Italian holiday, for instance, our jumble of impressions may include the echo of our footsteps as we wander the narrow alleys of pretty hill towns, the smell of the sun warming ancient stones, the taste of flavour-packed tomatoes served at breakfast and the simple pleasure of taking a stroll around the piazza after dinner.

On other trips, however, our memories revolve around a single moment. There you are, doing your thing, and suddenly everything crystallises for you. It may be an instant that is all about you: finally standing in a place that you have dreamed of being for many years, for instance. Or it may be about finding yourself part of something much bigger, your presence northing more than an accidental irrelevance.

We asked Traveller's globetrotting writers to think back on their year's worth of travels and choose the single moment that will live in their memories into the new year and beyond. From Alaska to Ethiopia, from absorbing natural wonders to staging a proposal, they offer a kaleidoscope of unforgettable experiences. - Ute Junker

FRENCH POLYNESIA, 10.15PM, FEBRUARY 23

Beautiful Fakarava beach, French Polynesia - Image
 satdec22cover - ONE MOMENT PLEASE - various writers
Credit: Shutterstock

Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK

I slide from the tender of my Oceania cruise ship Marina and into the Midori-blue lagoon that encircles Moorea in French Polynesia, to find myself standing waist-deep in warm, ultra-clear water surrounded by shoals of manta rays and black-tipped reef sharks. It was one of my more astonishing animal encounters. The manta rays, which numbered in the dozens, swam close enough that I could reach out and touch their strangely rubbery, slightly slimy wings. When I crouched down under the water they swam over the top of me, outlined against the blue infinity like stealth bombers. - BRIAN JOHNSTON

DEATH VALLEY, US, 12.22PM, OCTOBER 3

 

I expected dry and stark, but 1669 metres at Dante's View, I got something more valuable – a realisation of what the American West is. The mountain viewing terrace looks down at the lowest point in the United States – Badwater Basin in California's Death Valley. The twinkling white sediment at the bottom dazzles at the centre of an "oh my!" provoking scene. On the other side, more mountains rise, just as steep as the ones I'm standing on. And that's the American West – an extraordinarily rumpled horizon of extreme highs and lows, hospitable to only the hardiest. - DAVID WHITLEY

ETHIOPIA, 11.04PM, JANUARY 6

'Twas the night before Orthodox Christmas in Lalibela, Ethiopia's Jerusalem. I was perched atop a cliff peering down into the largest of the city's 11,900-year-old rock-hewn churches. It had taken over an hour of pushing through dark, ancient passageways past 200,000 other surging pilgrims to get there, but it was infinitely worthwhile. Below, 400-odd Orthodox Christian priests chanted and swayed to the sound of slow drums and horns, while all around me a sea of candle-wielding pilgrims wrapped in white muslin prayed and ululated. It felt mysterious and primordial, and worlds away from the excessive consumerism that had made me flee Christmas back home. - NINA KARNIKOWSKI

JAPAN, 9.25PM, SEPTEMBER 19

I wander along the maze of alleys that comprises Tokyo's Golden Gai district, an atmospheric enclave of tiny bars illuminated by gaudy signs. My goal is Deathmatch in Hell, a heavy metal themed bar at the far end. Perched on a stool, I marvel at the blood red interior, decorated with horror movie posters, dolls of the Blues Brothers, a Star Wars stormtrooper… and a big golden skull. Most whisky shots are 666 yen, so I sit drinking as the baseball-capped barman keeps the spirits coming and the music playing. For me, it was peak Tokyo. -TIM RICHARDS

RWANDA, 9.40AM, NOVEMBER 11

Portrait of a mountain gorilla with cub at a short distance. gorilla close up portrait.The mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) - Image
 satdec22cover - ONE MOMENT PLEASE - various writerssatdec22coverOption
Credit: Shutterstock

Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK

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Another pause in our hike through the dense Rwandan forest. I assume our guides are once again clearing a path with their machetes and let my gaze drift aimlessly… then I suddenly freeze. There is a gorilla directly in front of me, only two metres away. Two of them, in fact, lolling on the ground, eyeing us up casually. Over the next 60 minutes, 12 members of this clan will supply several extraordinary moments, including one particularly feisty gorilla that beats its chest at me, but it is that first surprising jolt of closeness that remains most vivid in my mind. - UTE JUNKER

SYDNEY AIRPORT, 11.10AM, NOVEMBER 1

He's ready. Or at least, I think he is. My three-month-old son, Angus, is strapped into his little seatbelt, wriggling around but mostly quiet, unaware this long room with the round windows he's sitting in is about to start roaring, and then shaking, and then flying high into the sky. This is my child's first proper experience as a traveller; it's my first-ever flight as a dad. It's frightening and exhilarating, stressful and strange. It's one small step for a baby, one giant leap in his parents' lives. Travel will never be the same for any of us again. Our lives will never be the same again. But, we're ready. - BEN GROUNDWATER

EGYPT, 6PM, APRIL 27

I walk onto the terrace of Egypt's historic Mena House, directly into 4500 years of history. Rising serenely above me in the rosy evening light, just as it has done for princes and paupers down the years, is the last of the ancient world's seven wonders – Giza's Great Pyramid. This stunning cultural symbol viscerally connects us with our past in a way that is momentous and comforting. It endures while all who have gazed upon it – Alexander the Great, Cleopatra, Napoleon Bonaparte – have gone to dust. Yet our efforts at civilisation crystallise in such monuments to higher endeavour. I'm close to tears, so are others from my Scenic group. Luckily there's gin and tonic. - ALISON STEWART

UTAH, US, 3PM, MAY 13

I'm perched on a metal bar halfway down a sheer,150-metre cliff, watching my friend disappear into an abyss called Eye of the Needle, a slot canyon in southern Utah. Until now, I've been full of bravado, managing my initial rappel with relative ease. It's my turn – but suddenly my body, coursing with adrenaline, gives out. My knees tremble, I'm deathly cold, and I'm incapable of releasing my grip to unclip the rope. Gibberish spews from my lips, unable to form the words "I can't" as guide Bill tells me to relax, you've got this, breathe. Staring death in the face and pushing through that terror was arguably the most liberating moment of my life, proof I can conquer anything. Except bungy jumping. Don't even. - JULIE MILLER

BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND, 1PM, JUNE 4

Our multicultural group – Aussies, Canadians, Americans, Europeans, south-east Asians and a few fellow mainland Brits – is almost at the end of one of the most fascinating walking tours I've ever been on, through the now peaceful streets of Belfast, scene (until the Good Friday Agreement) of "the Troubles". Our guide has taken us on a meandering walk, stopping every few metres to describe yet another murderous atrocity. Few if any of the buildings still exist: most were destroyed by sectarian bombing with many innocent people slaughtered by both sides. As an Englishman, I always avoided Belfast when I was younger. Back then, my accent alone would have marked me out as a potential victim. Today, Belfast is a vibrant, beautiful city, with people easily moving across the invisible border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland. And now comes Brexit, putting it all at risk again. - STEVE MEACHAM

SPAIN, 9.40AM, JUNE 2

I am standing alone in the middle of Barcelona's Sagrada Familia marvelling at the great progress made since I visited the cathedral decades ago. The clouds part. The morning sun burst through myriad rich green and deep blue glass panels on the nativity side illuminating Gaudi's glorious forest of branching columns in perfect sylvan colours. The architect once said "sunshine is the best painter" and in that moment I saw he – and the century of artisans who followed him – had achieved his goal of a "temple of harmonic light". My heart soars. - DAVID MCGONIGAL

TANZANIA, 2.33PM, MARCH 10

 

It was on the vast plains of northern Tanzania's Serengeti that four small nomadic Hadza hunter-gatherers agreed, not without some pride, to demonstrate their prowess with their home-made bows and arrows. But mid-way through their display, four tall Maasai warriors loom up to demand a turn. As the grudge-match over who could make an arrow soar the furthest heated up, they suddenly remembered the foreigners, and offered us a go. Our arrows, predictably, bounced straight into the ground and, after a short silence of disbelief, suddenly the two long-time adversaries are finally united, this time in helpless mirth. - SUE WILLIAMS

THE MARQUESAS ISLANDS, 10.12AM, JULY 21

We find a deserted beach by the lagoon out the front of someone's uncle's cousin's house on Fakarava. It's day two of a 14-day cruise to the most remote island archipelago on Earth (the Marquesas). I have a diamond ring hidden in my board-shorts … and a bottle of chilled Veuve buried in the tray of the truck. The sand's warm as I get on one knee. I ask, and the sound the breeze makes as it passes through the coconut tree above lasts an eternity. Yes, she says slowly. Behind us, someone plays a ukulele… but I'm miles away. - CRAIG TANSLEY

ZIMBABWE, 6.15PM, APRIL 23

I step aboard Stimela Star, a restored 1950s sleeper train, for its inaugural overnight journey from Zimbabwe's Victoria Falls to Hwange National Park. "Happy days," calls barman Big Boy, welcoming me with a gin and tonic and a smile as bright as the moon. The horn howls, the wheels turn and we are off, carrying, not just a dozen excited passengers, but also the hopes of a nation. With the recent resignation of dictator Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe is looking towards a brighter, tourist-driven future. I get goosebumps now just thinking about it. See benchafrica.com.au - KERRY VAN DER JAGT

ECUADOR, 5.25AM, DECEMBER 4

AP46MD South America, Ecuador, Amazon. Mist over canopy satdec22cover - ONE MOMENT PLEASE - various writers
Credit: Alamy

Photo: Alamy 

It's still dark when we start the climb – 199 breathless steps up a corkscrewing metal staircase. As we ascend, the soundtrack gets louder – the background chatter of insects joined by an avian chorus of shrieks, whistles and whoops. Upon reaching the summit, a wooden platform cradled high in the lichen-covered embrace of a towering kapok tree, a crimson sun peeks over the horizon, flooding the mist-swathed canopy and completing a glorious orchestral crescendo of sound and light. There will be other sunrises but few will compete with this soul-tugging display at Sacha Lodge in the Ecuadorian Amazon. See chimuadventures.com - ROB MCFARLAND

ALASKA, 10.44AM AKDT (ALASKA DAYLIGHT TIME), MAY 29

ECP568 Two Alaskan Brown Bear spring cubs stand on their hind limbs and look out over the tall grasses at Lake Clark National Park. satdec22cover - ONE MOMENT PLEASE - various writers
Credit: Alamy

Photo: Alamy 

My timing is usually the worst. Just as I put my camera down, or switch it off, that's when something interesting happens. My luck changes on Admiralty Island near Juneau. We're watching two juvenile coastal brown bears frolic in a meadow when I zoom in to video them at play. Perhaps it's a sixth sense that makes me pull back slightly, allowing the perfect amount of room in the frame when they pop up on their hind legs and, like meerkats, survey their surrounds. It happens only once during our visit – and miraculously, I captured every second. See packcreekbeartours.com, princess.com - KATRINA LOBLEY

INDIA, 10.55AM, MARCH 23

Wandering along Kinari Bazaar in the knotted streets of Old Delhi, all riotous colours and bangles during the post-Diwali wedding season, my eye was taken by a mound of foamy white in a big silver bowl. It's daulat ki chaat, a street food favourite in Old Delhi. Daulat ki chaat is made from buffalo milk, which is set overnight in a clay pot and beaten for several hours until it forms soft peaks. The vendor scoops a spoonful onto a foil dish, adds ground pistachios, green cardamom and malai, buffalo buttermilk, and tops it off with sugar. It's like eating clouds that angels have whisked with their wings, and for the moment I am transported to heaven. - MICHAEL GEBICKI

HONG KONG, 12.51PM, MARCH 29

Dim sum in a basement in Central. Cold beer, hot tea, cacophony. Dumplings shaped like little birds. Har gau that almost crunch with prawn. Such recognisable, familiar, adorable flavours, such craft and tradition, such happiness. But this was different. Thanks to some spooky serendipity from the god of travel, this was happening with husband Terry, husband's son, Max, and husband's son's son, Thomas, all at the same table. There they were – three boys, three generations – arguing over the siu mai and the sugar-dusted baked char siu puffs, doing what they've done a thousand times over in Melbourne, but never before in the spiritual home of dim sum, Hong Kong. Double happiness. - JILL DUPLEIX

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