Best places to be at the end of the world: Travel experts name their final destinations

It should, of course, be cause for concern: the end of the world; the coming of the apocalypse; the impending doom of our last collective day on Earth. As world leaders trade 140-character insults and missiles soar through our skies, it should be reason to take to the streets in panic.

However, we're not doing that. Instead, we're planning a celebration. If the end of the world really is nigh, then the team at Traveller would like to go out doing something we love. You wouldn't like to spend your hypothetical final 24 hours on this wonderful planet in fear, after all.

Ideally, your last day would be one of defiance, of joy, of raging against the dying of the light, of exalting in the things you cherish about this life and this Earth the most. That's how we feel, and our fantasy final day would, of course, be spent exploring the world. We would pass our last hours doing the things we love best: travelling, discovering, tasting, viewing, interacting, gazing, wandering, and enjoying.

We would make those 24 hours a celebration of all that's good about this planet, all that we've loved seeing in our time as travellers. Each of us has our own preference of how and where we would conduct this final fling. From eating dim sum in Hong Kong, to wandering the streets of Rome; from cruising the Med to going on safari, or attending the Biennale – the common thread here is one of celebration, of a fantasy last hurrah spent doing the things we truly love.

Everyone's last day should be spent like this. It's time to rejoice.

THE INDULGENT TRAVELLER

Julietta Jameson

Pantheon by night, Rome Italy SatJul15cover - Last day on Earth Credit: iStock

Photo: iStock

My last day will be spent walking in beauty, to quote the poet Lord Byron who loved Rome like I do. I rise from the plushest of beds at 4am, huddling myself into a fluffy white towelling robe before stepping out onto my private terrace on the top floor of Rome's Intercontinental De La Ville. From one of the highest points in the city, I gaze across the analogue street lights, darkened verdant hills, glowing blue domes and terracotta villas and fall into a sacred moment of gratitude that my last day can be spent communing with such splendour.

"Buongiorno signora Jameson! You are up so early!" I engage with the doorman and the wonderful theatre of five-star life before stepping onto the quiet pre-dawn cobbled lanes alongside the garbos and street sweepers to see my Roman friends one last time: Bernini's Elephant and Obelisk, the basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri, Michelangelo's wonder of symmetry and sequence built within the old Roman baths near Termini, and the ancient Pantheon, a symbol of stoic endurance amidst the fleeting moments of history, much like the city itself.

Advertisement

By now Rome is awake and I stand at a busy bar alongside the suits and perfectly blow-waved women, savouring a strong black coffee, a simple cheese and ham panini and a sip of prosecco – no one cares – before walking via the dazzling elegance of Piazza Navona to admire the buskers and street artists. On I walk, to Piazza del Popolo to pop a coin into a slot so the light comes on to illuminate the Caravaggio in the church there. His brilliance, as always, moves me to tears.

Rome famous piazza del popolo at sunset with the obelisco flaminio in the center and the saint peter's basilica in the background SatJul15cover - Last day on Earth Credit: iStock

Piazza del Popolo at sunset. Photo: iStock

I lunch on one of the sunny terraces that line the square, surrounded by designer sunglasses and linen shirts on impossibly good-looking men. I flirt with the waiter as I order an extra glass of wine to wash down my silky tortellini.

A post-prandial doze ensues, in the city's particularly golden sunshine, on a cool, thick lawn dotted with daisies in the Villa Borghese gardens. I might ride the carousel before wandering Via dei Coronari to try on heirloom jewellery and fondle exquisite antiques.

How did it get so late in the day with no gelati? Perhaps I should have had some for breakfast. Lucky the famous Gelateria del Teatro is here. Two scoops, in a cone; classic flavours of strawberry and maybe lemon. Today, it is not wrong to go back for seconds.

I buy a crazy expensive dress on via Condotti, head up the Spanish Steps to my hotel, and open a bottle of soave to sip as the sun begins to drop. I do my hair and make-up, slip on my new frock and take my time getting to that little family-owned trattoria I know on the square off the beaten path, with the al fresco seating that faces a grand church and where the whole host family, bambini included, welcome you like one of their own.

Fresh crusty bread, antipasti, pasta, wine, tiramisu and the box seat as the setting sun paints the church's facade – I toast this day, this city and this life, that has been full of beauty and splendour when I have been open to it like this, and as I have always been when in Rome.

See also: The 20 must-do highlights of Rome

THE ADVENTURE TRAVELLER

Andrew Bain

The Perito Moreno Glacier panoramic view. It is is a glacier located in the Los Glaciares National Park in Patagonia, Argentina. SatJul15cover - Last day on Earth Credit: iStock

The Perito Moreno Glacier. Photo: iStock

If I'm confronting the end of the world, I want to do so at one of the geographic ends of the world: Patagonia, the place I consider the most naturally beautiful and wild at once. Here, wind, ice, rain and glaciers have carved a startling landscape that has an undeniable sense of fury and finality.

From the ever-expanding Argentine town of El Calafate, I'll set out early for Moreno Glacier, boating across Lago Argentino beneath the 70-metre-high terminus of the glacier. Almost certainly, seracs will be calving away from its snout, tumbling into the lake in powerful eruptions of water and ice.

On rock shelves across the lake, I'll don a set of crampons for a guided hike up through the glacier's magical maze of ice. Crunching along ridges of compacted ice, we'll wander up to the final bend in Moreno's frozen journey, where its surface fractures like broken honeycomb, creating spectacular fins and towers of ice.

I'm hoping the world ends in the southern summer, so that the long days allow me time to dash from Moreno Glacier to the climbers' haven of El Chalten, don my backpack and set out on foot through the lenga beech scrub towards my favourite mountain in the world: Monte Fitz Roy.

It's a place as suitably end-of-the-world as I know, for the winds here are often apocalyptic – I've hiked in 160km/h winds in Patagonia that had locals blithely shrugging their shoulders as if to say "just another day". The walk into the base of Monte Fitz Roy is a simple one, following the Chorrillo del Salto upstream and finally to the incomparable Laguna de los Tres. This small lake, pooled in a barren hollow ground out by a long-gone glacier, sits at the foot of Monte Fitz Roy and a glacier that spills from around it.

SatJul15cover - Last day on Earth Credit: iStock

Photo: Supplied

The mountain looms large from its shores, its tip rising about 2000 metres overhead, with a wall of summit rock that is itself more than a kilometre high. Little wonder it's considered one of the world's great climbing challenges. But I'll be content to sit by the lake and watch sunset do its artistic thing across the range and the typically moody Patagonian sky.

In darkness, I'll switch on my head torch and wander back down the valley as far as Laguna Capri, where I'll pitch my tent among the wind-blocking lenga, because if by any chance the sun should happen to rise again, there are few views that make you feel as good about being alive as the glowing dawn image of Monte Fitz Roy from beside your tent at Laguna Capri.

See also: The spectacular ice wall you need to see to believe

THE INTREPID TRAVELLER

Ben Groundwater

Phulad, India - December 5, 2015: Holy cow standing on the platform of a small train station in Phulad. Beside are visible people with luggage getting on the local train arrived from Khamlighat. Hindus regard the animals as sacred and will not kill or eat them. SatJul15cover - Last day on Earth Credit: iStock

Photo: iStock

Click-clack, click-clack, click-clack. This would be the soundtrack to my last day on Earth: the staccato beat of wheels on rails. It would be the screech of metal as brakes are applied. It would be the trill of a conductor's whistle, the slamming of doors.

The soundtrack to my last day on Earth would be conversations in 20 different languages. It would be the shuffle of a thousand feet, the hum of humanity on the move.

I would spend these precious final hours on a train in India with a second-class sleeper ticket to nowhere. It wouldn't matter where the train was going. It wouldn't even matter where it had begun. The experience is what counts, the experience of being in those carriages, of crossing that land.

It sounds strange, I know. Your last day on Earth and you'd spend it sitting in a train? In second class? In India?

Hear me out.

Everything that's great about travel is wheezing along those Indian railway tracks 24 hours a day, every day, slowly making its way across the great subcontinent. Everything that we as travellers crave, everything we love, is being carted around on those rattling wheels.

A train ride in India is people; it's so many people. It's the best and worst of humanity, a microcosm of the world, a glorious mix of every type of human imaginable (and at least one of them is probably sitting in your seat, or asking you to move over so they can share it). It's the kindness of strangers who offer to share their lunch. It's the frank stares of people who've never seen anything like you before. It's the yell of touts selling snacks. It's the funk of sweat and spice.

But it's not just what's inside that counts. The attraction of an Indian train ride is what you see outside as well, a million snapshots of everyday life, a highlight reel of houses and rickshaws, people and animals, fields and trees, gone as fast as they appear. There's never a dull moment when you stare out from a train in India, never a second when that grubby window isn't framing something incredible or horrible or fascinating.

So yes, I would spend my last day in an Indian train. I would eat great food and chat to strangers and lie there on the top bunk and just watch as the world went by.

Click-clack, click-clack, click-clack. On into the night.

See also: India for beginners - what you need to know before you go

THE FOODIE TRAVELLER

Larissa Dubecki

SatJul15cover - Last day on Earth China Club, Hong Kong

The China Club, Hong Kong Photo: Supplied

The good news about the end of the world is that it's no time to diet. Quite the opposite – what better excuse to pig out with no heed for tomorrow? On a mission to eat your way to the end of the world, the choice of location is obvious. Hong Kong. The compact island with the highest concentration of restaurants in the world (last estimate: one restaurant for every 600 people) it's an endless feast where one can indulge in gluttony from morning to midnight at any budget.

The last day on Earth does not begin at the hotel breakfast buffet. Don't waste good stomach space on the Esperanto of food when you could head to Sang Kee, a no-frills canteen in Burd Street, Sheung Wan, where the cloud-like pork ball congee will set you up for the day. Nix the Chinese doughnuts (we are pacing ourselves) but maybe double down on the ginger slivers (they calm the stomach, and there is an onslaught ahead).

Your congee appetiser done, it's time to turn thoughts to yum cha, one of the things that make life worth living (oh, the irony). Today we're heading to the luxe Golden Leaf in the basement of the five-star Conrad Hotel. Embrace the service, embrace the slick interiors – hell, even embrace the champagne despite it not being midday yet – and certainly say, "hang the expense".

Order the braised abalone and the steamed birds' nest with gold leaf, as well as the excellent har gau. Mutter a prayer of thanks for choosing pants with an elasticised waistband and take a breather on the 45-minute ferry heading to the lively restaurants lining the waterfront at Lamma Island.

Lamma Island, Hong Kong - September 25, 2009: Some restaurants at the water's edge, situated at the beautiful Sok Kwu Wan on Lamma Island, the third largest island in Hong Kong. It is just after sunset time and the restaurant lights have come on. Several guests are already busy placing their orders. In the foreground are some boats at anchor; in the background are the hills on the island. Photo shot at dusk, horizontal format. Shallow depth of field. SatJul15cover - Last day on Earth Credit: iStock

Lamma Rainbow Photo: iStock

Try Lamma Rainbow: it's touristy but it's also super fun. The live seafood from the tanks, simply cooked (don't be greedy, have just one lobster) is your best bet. Back on the ferry, this time to Wan Chai, where Hong Kong institution Under Bridge Spicy Crab serves the famously spicy typhoon shelter crab in an atmosphere that's much like the end of the world, every day. Then catch a taxi to the last stop of the night, China Club. Housed on the top three floors of the original Bank of China building in the financial district, it takes its style from the days of Rule Britannia (gents are expected to wear a jacket, ladies something that swishes).

Opened in 1991, it is members-only (although they might relax protocol, seeing as it's the end of the world and all) but any self-respecting Hong Kong concierge should be able to commandeer a booking to this extravagant vision of Old Hong Kong. Here, a Canto feast of crystal prawns, suckling pig and Peking duck is just a formal waiter away. When the tea ceremony is over there's only one thing for it, old chaps. Take a martini onto the rooftop terrace and enjoy the show.

See also: The seven best places to shop in Hong Kong

THE NATURE TRAVELLER

Julie Miller

Afternoon at Khwai area in Botswana admiring the elephants drinking water. SatJul15cover - Last day on Earth Credit: iStock

Photo: iStock

Noah, at least, must have been given ample warning to gather his wildlife flock in the face of impending doom. But without the luxury of time or ark-construction chops, this animal lover contemplating my last day of existence has little choice but to teleport to where I'll get the most bang for my four-legged buck in terms of volume, scale and biodiversity.

Let's face it, under these grim circumstances, I want as many "Oh, my god!" moments as possible with minimal effort. And for that, there's no more accomplished lover than Botswana's Okavango Delta.

From the air, the marital bed is laid out before me, a parched dustbowl dotted with clumps of stunted trees and the occasional muddy waterhole where herds of elephants, buffalo and tail-twirling warthog can be clearly spotted. But look! Here comes the flood, trickling like a leaky hose, creating a maze of lagoons and islands as the annual miracle transforms the scrubby landscape to a watery wonderland, exultant with leaping lechwe and wallowing hippos.

Africa's final dawn makes a statement, red ball piercing the mist as a sole giraffe bobs its head to an unheard rhythm, an iconic silhouette reflected in an ever-expanding pink lagoon. Time is clearly of the essence; by 7am we are in the saddle, setting off on what I believe it the ultimate way to view game – a horseback safari.

On a horse, you are more than just a casual observer in this ecosystem; unencumbered by glass and steel, you become part of the landscape, at one with the wildlife. We sneak within metres of a near-sighted bull elephant, before its inquiring trunk registers the scent of humans and we bid a slow retreat; while on other occasions we are grateful for our mounts' speed, cantering among a herd of giraffes, poetry in slow motion, or flanking a stampeding herd of buffalo at full gallop.

Taken in the Okavango, Botswana SatJul15cover - Last day on Earth Credit: iStock

Photo: iStock

The afternoon brings more relaxing contemplation as we explore the mirrored waterways in a traditional dug-out canoe, or mokoro, manouevred stand-up style by our handsome guides. As we drift past lily pads, wary of the log-like snouts of crocodile and gaping jaws of hippos, we watch mesmerised as the sun dips over the horizon, absorbing the magic in appreciative silence.

Botswana continues to deliver to the bitter end; under the beam of a spotlight, we spot a leopard dragging a carcass into a tree; while an African wildcat sits unperturbed in the middle of the road, looking extraordinarily like a fat domestic tabby. Then, as the clock strikes midnight, I hear the roar of a lion on the prowl, echoing across the empty expanse. Perhaps I should throw caution to the wind and face that call of the wild – after all, I have nothing to lose.

See also: The 10 best ways to experience Africa's wildlife

THE CULTURAL TRAVELLER

Katrina Lobley

HHAE4E Colorful evening over the Grand Canal and city of Venice, Veneto, Italy

Photo: Alamy

If it were the last day on Earth, I hope it falls in an odd year. For that's when the Venice Biennale – a prestigious international art fair – transforms the already magical city into something that can make you quite forget that the end of the world is nigh. The biennale, which sprawls over almost six months, is focused around two hubs – the Giardini and the Arsenale, a hop and a skip from St Mark's Square on the vaporetto. But the best part about the biennale is that it spreads beyond these official venues, turning Venice itself into one big art gallery. You round a corner, expecting nothing more than photogenic alleyways, canals, bridges, churches, palazzos and piazzas, to be taken aback by something sitting there in the name of art. A map helps you track down these surprises or simply let yourself stumble upon them.

The current biennale, which kicked off in May, runs until November 26. This year, Tracey Moffatt has become Australia's first Indigenous artist to have a solo show there, with an exhibition of photographs and video works titled My Horizon in the Australian Pavilion (a black brutalist cube in the Giardini). Another stand-out work comes from American artist Sheila Hicks – she has covered a wall in the Arsenale with a fibre installation resembling giant pom-poms. The biennale might sound as kitschy as a world expo – showcasing works from dozens of countries, including first-time participants Kiribati and Nigeria – but to me it's an extra sprinkling of fairy dust over one of the world's most compelling cities.

Venice, Italy - May 19, 2015: Spectators admire artwork entitled 'Together' by artist Jaume Plensa in the Basilica of San Giorgio Maggiore at the 56th Venice Biennale. SatJul15cover - Last day on Earth Credit: iStock

Photo: iStock

If it is, indeed, my last day, then hang the expense of a gondola ride. I'd go crazy and book a whole hour with a good-looking gondolier, admiring how he keeps his vessel's paintwork scratch-free with a deft kick against the canal walls every now and then. Many gondoliers have amusing nicknames – ask around for Bei Capelli ("Beautiful Hair").

Take time to notice the little things that make Venice so transcendental. Peer at the street lamps, noting the glass that's a subtle shade of amethyst. Need time out to smell the roses but don't know where to find them? If you're staying at the Bauer Palazzo, hop into the hotel's chic speedboat and zip over to sister property, Bauer Palladio, on the island of Giudecca, to find the slightly wild secret garden of the former convent. Hungry? Cruise to Burano to feast on seafood at a homely restaurant tucked between the island's technicolour houses.

If you're lucky, you're in Venice during the acqua alta when the water that both defines and threatens the city gurgles up through St Mark's Square, flooding the place, reflecting the lights and doubling its charm. Speaking of impending doom, how best to bow out with a flourish? There's only one way, really, and that's at Harry's Bar where the bellini was invented. Cheers, cin cin and all that. It's time to go out with a peach-scented bang.

See also: The 20 must-do highlights of Venice

THE CRUISE TRAVELLER

Brian Johnston

Aqueduct brought running water to the old city of Caesarea, along a raised aqueduct. The source of the water was the springs of Shummi. Herod build the aqueduct in the 1st C BC. Image taken with Nikon D800 and 16-35 lens, developed from RAW. Location: Caesarea, near Tel Aviv, Israel SatJul15cover - Last day on Earth Credit: iStock

Photo: iStock

You couldn't fit a cruise into a day, but a week or two before the world's end I'd want to go back to where a lot of our world began. A cruise in the eastern Mediterranean would be my way of saying farewell to thousands of years of history and some of the civilisations which have had the most impact on our cultures and thoughts. Its archaeological sites are a who's who of history: Etruscans, Greeks and Cretans, Romans and Ottomans. Its religions, political thought, architecture and literature have, even unwittingly, affected us all.

Many cruises sail this region, but Viking Cruises' Cities of Antiquity itinerary manages to link several of the lands of great emperors and philosophers alike. It sails from Rome to Athens by way of Jerusalem in a culture-dense region where Alexander the Great led conquests, St Paul gave sermons, Anthony and Cleopatra smooched on the shoreline, Aristotle pondered and Saladin battled.

On a day in Haifa I could take a shore excursion to Acre, one of the world's oldest continuously inhabited cities: perhaps that's a good place to face the end of civilisation. Perhaps I'd be comforted in other destinations to think that other people have faced the end of the world too: the Roman inhabitants of Pompeii engulfed in volcanic ash, the Knights of St John booted out of Rhodes, the palace of Knossos now just a forlorn ruin picked over by shore-excursion enthusiasts.

Of course, there are few places more powerful for contemplating the meaning of life and your imminent extermination than Jerusalem, troubled city of three great religions. I could hedge my bets for the afterlife by visiting the Western Wall (Jewish), the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Christian) and the Dome of the Rock (Muslim), or just join one of the many mystics and cranks who wander the streets and whose prophecies may finally be about to come true.

In short, my final cruise would be a sail through the centuries, wandering in the wake of Odysseus – a fine way to celebrate some of the greatest achievements of the human mind and the ornaments of human culture. On the final day I'd sit on deck in the warm Mediterranean sun, among a scattering of ancient islands, and probably conclude that for all our many faults and evils, we humans managed to create plenty of wonder and marvels and beauty. That's a good reason to travel, and a good thought to take with you as you sail into the final sunset.

See also: 11 ship designs changing the face of cruising

GIMME SHELTER: FIVE PLACES TO SURVIVE THE APOCALYPSE

MOSCOW, RUSSIA

If you need to take cover during an apocalyptic event, you could certainly do worse than cowering in Moscow's "Bunker 42", a 7000-square-metre Stalin-era hideout buried 65 metres below the capital city's streets. Given it was designed to function as a command post during wartime, where 30,000 people could live for up to 90 days, you would have to feel pretty safe.

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND

Beautiful view of the historic city center of Zurich with famous Fraumunster Church and swans on river Limmat on a sunny day with blue sky, Canton of Zurich, Switzerland. SatJul15cover - Last day on Earth BREAKOUT Credit: iStock

Photo: iStock

There's nothing like a little neutrality to make you feel comfortable, and Switzerland has long been at the forefront of fence-sitting. Just in case the country is, however, caught up in global warfare, you could always take shelter in one of Zurich's bank vaults, which are surely more secure than almost any location in the world.

ALBERTA, CANADA

According those who know – and we use "know" in a very loose sense – the best place to survive a zombie apocalypse would be Canada's Rocky Mountains. A team of statisticians from Cornell University decided that, given the rate and direction that zombies would be likely to spread, you'd be best taking shelter in the snow-capped hills.

BAKKAGERDI, ICELAND

Ain't no one going to find you in this isolated village in north-eastern Iceland unless you really want them to. It helps, of course, that the population is only a few hundred, and Bakkagerdi is surrounded by cold seas and inhospitable land. But how would anyone even ask for directions to find you? Bakkagerdi is in the municipality of Borgarfjardarhreppur, on the coast of Borgarfjordur Eystri. Good luck with that.

PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA

SatJul15cover - Last day on Earth BREAKOUT Credit: iStock

Photo: iStock

Let's face it, the person most likely to trigger an actual apocalypse is either playing golf at Mar-a-Lago, or fiddling with missile launchers in Pyongyang. Our thinking is that if there's going to be a weaponised worldwide disaster, it's probably safest to be in the place where the rockets are launched, rather than the place where they land.

BEN GROUNDWATER

GAME OVER: FIVE PLACES THAT MAKE YOU FEEL LIKE THE WORLD IS AT END

GATES OF HELL, TURKMENISTAN

You'll be scanning the horizon for four horsemen as you approach this freakish, fiery natural wonder, a vast cauldron of flames that burns eternally in the Turkmenistan desert. The crater was formed when a Soviet drilling rig collapsed into a massive natural gas cavern – the volatile fuel was set alight in 1971 as a way to control it, and it's been burning ever since.

POMPEII, ITALY

The city of Pompeii was an ancient Roman town-city near modern Naples in the Italian region of Campania, in the territory of the comune of Pompei. SatJul15cover - Last day on Earth BREAKOUT Credit: iStock

Photo: iStock

There's no doubt the citizens of Pompeii were convinced the world was ending when Mt Vesuvius exploded almost 2000 years ago, burying their city in more than 10 metres of molten mud and ash. The ruins that remain are a chilling reminder of the power of Mother Nature to destroy as well as to create.

RHYOLITE, US

This good old-fashioned Wild West ghost town looks exactly the way you imagine the whole world would, come the apocalypse. It's all faded facades gradually crumbling into the dust of the desert; tumbleweed blowing through long-deserted streets; wind howling in ruined eaves. Creepy, and yet fascinating.

TA PROHM, CAMBODIA

While many of the temples of Angkor have been restored to their former glory, Ta Prohm has been left in the charming, dilapidated state in which it was found, having been engulfed by the forest around it, blurring the lines between foliage and foundations. The Earth, you realise, always wins in the end.

MORON, MONGOLIA

The average winter temperature in this Mongolian outpost – during the day – is minus 21 degrees. That's the warmest it ever gets in January. At night it's usually about minus 30 degrees. The coldest it's ever been is minus 47 degrees. That goes some way to explaining why the dusty streets of Moron are deathly, apocalyptically quiet during winter.

See also: Don't go there - five destinations you shouldn't bother visiting

See also: 10 'dodgy' cities you should definitely still visit

Listen: Flight of Fancy - the Traveller.com.au podcast with Ben Groundwater

To subscribe to the Traveller.com.au podcast Flight of Fancy on iTunes, click here.

Comments