A look back in wonder

Our writers spend their year going places. In 2013 these were their most memorable experiences.


Time waits for no man but fortunately ancient wonders do. After 48 years, I finally made it to the famed temple of Abu Simbel on the banks of the Nile, Egypt.

Standing before the 21-metre effigies of Ramses II made my head spin. Maybe I was suffering from the 40-degree heat, or disoriented by the total absence of tourists at one of the world's most coveted cultural sites.

But perhaps it was the 3000-year-old temple simply doing what it was built to do: warning peoples of the Upper Nile that here stood not a man, but a god.

- Max Anderson


The often uncomfortable bed-mates of luxury and wilderness look as if they've been together a lifetime at Sonora, an island resort in the Inside Passage of British Columbia where playtime involves fishing for salmon, dolphin watching, fine wine and one-on-one yoga.

So I'm ill-prepared for the scene of carnage at the confluence of two rivers, one glacial green, the other silver grey, where salmon have come from the Pacific on their annual run, ready to spawn then die.


Their shining carcasses, picked over by grizzlies and caught by the currents, are wrapped around felled logs. The sun's rays gild the valley floor, revealing a riverbed of hundreds more. It is death and beauty combined – and a metaphorical fishy wallop on the head with a giant fish as a reminder for all of us of how fleeting life is when nature's in the raw.

- Jane Reddy


The Teshima Art Museum isn't a fitting title for the installation on top of a hill in Japan's tiny Kagawa prefecture, but I'm not sure what is. Visitors are invited, barefoot, inside what looks a little like a titanic, hollowed-out turtle shell. The floor is smooth concrete, the ceiling a brilliant white.

No photos are allowed, nor is noise of any kind. In this strange, serene chamber, life comes in the form of tiny water droplets which seep from the ground, trundling away down invisible slopes to gather in glistening pools.

I don't have the words to do it justice.

It is comfortably the most affecting, remarkable piece of art I have ever seen.

- Jamie Lafferty


Rereading William Dalrymple's

City of Djinns rekindled my affection for Old Delhi and in particular the tangled laneways around the Red Mosque. When a friend suggested dinner at Karim's, a legendary Mughal restaurant in the quarter, I jumped. It's sensory overload.

As soon as we leave the taxi we're in a broil of humanity, caught up in a jostling surge that propels us past gaudy open-fronted shops and sweating vendors supervising cauldrons of samosas and sticky sweets. My friend catches a video on his iPhone but it can't do justice to the rich stew of smells, blaring music, crush and sheer nakedness of the human condition that is the heart of Old Delhi.

- Michael Gebicki


I was lucky enough to be in Venice for one of the city's infamous high tides, yet with sunny weather. St Mark's Square, under water, was shimmering with reflections of fat baroque clouds, the Doge's Palace and mosaic-studded basilica.

Piano music tinkled from a cafe in the arcades; tourists sloshed about in disposable neon-green wellington boots. It made me smile. Watching the tide gurgle through the streets was fascinating and, even under water, Venice was splendid with floating palaces and churches adrift.

I finally gave in to a corny gondola ride and found it absurdly seductive.

- Brian Johnston


Two o'clock in the morning may seem a strange time to climb 5200 steps but Sri Pada, in Sri Lanka's interior, is not your normal mountain. At its summit, a "sacred footprint" cast in stone causes all sorts of arguments: Was it left by Buddha, Shiva, or Adam as he touched down from Eden?

In the middle of the night it hardly seems to matter, with monks and mystified visitors clamouring past tea shacks as everyone tries to beat the sunrise.

The climb is long, crowded and increasingly narrow, but ringing that bell on top is well worth a trade of eight hours' sleep.

- Lance Richardson


One of the many things I love about Berlin is the richness awaiting discovery in the many museums tucked into odd corners of the city. My big find this year was Museum Berggruen in Charlottenburg. As an art dealer in post-war Paris, Heinz Berggruen assembled one of the world's great Picasso collections, with more than 100 works ranging from the artist's student days to later years. He donated these masterpieces to his hometown, along with the rest of his impressive collection: 70 Klees, as well as works by Braque, Matisse and Giacometti.

This intimate museum is one of Berlin's best art experiences – and that's really saying something.

- Ute Junker


Inviting a group of my nearest and dearest friends to travel to Thailand with me, none of who had been to Asia before, was an ambitious plan.

Bangkok was the perfect first date, all golden palaces and jade Buddhas, rooftop bars and sunset cruises.

The Death Railway and Kanchanaburi War Cemetery broke hearts; the elephants at the River Kwai Jungle Rafts mended them. So did a man called Sam, from the displaced Mon people, who invited all eight of us to his village and shared stories about life and love and longing. And who invited us to come back next year.

- Kerry van der Jagt


During a seven-month sabbatical in India this year I ventured to Ladakh, the "land of high passes", tucked away in the far north of the country between Kashmir and the Chinese border. It was a snap decision to go, but even years of planning and research couldn't have prepared us for the raw majesty of the region.

White stupas dot the barren desert, prayer flags flutter in the crisp breeze, 15th-century Buddhist monasteries adorn mountain ridges and hiking trails weave through Himalayan mountains so remote you could be stumbling about on the surface of the moon.

The true highlight was camping by the shores of Pangong Tso Lake– a 134-kilometre expanse of crystalline blue water whose shades vary depending on the time of day and which, at 4350 metres high, is quite literally breathtaking.

- Nina Karnikowski


I was reading Pablo Neruda's poetry when I passed through Chile earlier this year and I found my impressions coloured by his words – especially in Valparaiso, the historic port town that hangs over the edge of the Pacific. It had changed since Neruda lived here, falling into decline until its recent upswing as an arty, foodie tourist destination.

But it is still a wonderful vertical sprawl, its shanties and gentrified bohemian quarters rising upward and backward from the waterfront in what Neruda called "unfathomable snaking spirals, and the twisting loops of a trumpet".

After sunset, as the poet put it, Valparaiso "shimmered across the night of the world".

- Stephen Phelan


The late Nelson Mandela called it

"a sacred and precious place, a gift to the earth" – Cape Town's Table Mountain – one of the world's seven natural wonders. I grew up on its slopes but had never hiked this magic kingdom or slept on the tabletop.

Home of switchback ravines, indigenous forest, rare botanical and zoological species, this is a wild world in the clouds.

Over three days, we climbed 2000 metres through different microclimates, trekking part of the 75-kilometre mountain top to Cape Point Hoerikwaggo Trail. Fine food and comfortable camps eased our aches, while waking in peace to sunrise over far mountains was a life-enriching experience.

- Alison Stewart-Mills


I prepared myself to be disappointed in this classic train journey, the Orient Express, but it was such a deliriously wonderful experience I had to be dragged off the train when we reached our destination.

I took the inaugural trip from Venice to Stockholm, which was special in itself, hundreds of Swedes lining their railway stations to wave at us as we rattled past. The train is impeccably restored with beautiful marquetry and gleaming hardware.

Silver service meals taken in the three stylish art deco dining rooms are a joy. Cabins are tiny but masterpieces of design. And the stewards are brilliant at making your bunks comfy.

- Lee Tulloch


Before 2013 Fiji seemed to me about as exotic as a suburban shopping mall. A cheap holiday choice for Aussies. Mundane as. This year I spent time there, both in and outside resorts, and what a surprise.

I discovered the South Pacific romance of Fiji. Still largely rustic, its people open, warm and welcoming, its aquatic vistas unsurpassed, its myriad accommodation choices fabulous, it's a place that nourishes my soul.

In fact, it's my happy place, the one to which I dream of returning when my mind is seeking solace from everyday hassles. Should this professional traveller get a moment for a proper holiday in 2014, I'll be taking it in Fiji. And bonus: it will be cheap.

- Julietta Jameson


As someone who loves the vintage aesthetic, Cuba for me had long held a powerful allure. Determined to shun the package tours in favour of a more adventurous experience, I rented a battered car and headed south along the pothole-ravaged highway.

Two things soon became apparent. Firstly, nothing is straightforward here; there is virtually no Internet, precious little infrastructure and the simplest task can rapidly become an ordeal.

Secondly, it is insanely beautiful. Perhaps more than anywhere else, Cuba has remained untouched by the passage of time. From the crumbling elegance of its beach-side towns, the classic cars lining the streets, to the rhythmic beat of a salsa band in a rum-drenched corner bar, this is a place I will never forget.

- Guy Wilkinson


It's rare that a destination lives up to high expectations, that the reality of a place can fit the picture you've carried in your head for so long.

Iran, however, did just that. I'd longed to go there for years, convinced the glowing snippets of traveller gossip I'd heard were closer to the truth than the fear-mongering stories riddling the morning papers.

From the moment I arrived, when a Tehrani taxi driver fumbled desperately with a phrasebook while driving at 130km/h in order simply to be the first to say "Welcome to Iran", I knew I was right.

Iran was beautiful, seductive, surprising, colourful, joyous, and above all, welcoming. A place everyone should see.

- Ben Groundwater


There's before Bora Bora and then there's after Bora Bora. Nowhere I've seen yet in the world can top this tropical dot of loveliness.

Long adored by deep-pocketed celebs, the resorts here remain in the dreams of mere mortals. They richly deserve their reputation as other-worldly expensive.

Paradise may come at a high price but to wander the sandy paths of the Four Seasons – even for just 36 hours as I did in August – is to exist in a bubble of frangipani-scattered, sunshine-flooded, natural perfection. Set on a coral reef islet, the resort's main attraction is its lagoon of so many extraordinary blues the urge to jump in is unstoppable.

Glass floors in the over-water bungalows provide a reef fish screensaver underfoot while plantation shutters open taking the dinghy-sized bath tub outdoors.

Luxury at every turn, food from the sea, nature's gifts in abundance and French-speaking locals who've won gold in the geneality Olympics – sensory overload never felt so good.

- Angie Kelly


An ordinary-looking drawbridge and single-storey museum in the French riverside village of Ranville, Normandy. Nothing to see here, surely? And yet ... British forces captured the bridge before dawn on June 6, 1944, kicking-off that massive World War II Allied invasion of German-occupied Northern Europe, Normandy Landings: "D-Day". Since renamed Pegasus Bridge and moved from its river site to the museum's grounds, the bridge still shows battle scars.

Inside the modest-looking Memorial Pegasus Museum is a large old-fashioned, 3-D topographic re-creation showing where soldiers were and when. Sure, the museum has digital displays, film and photographic works, but it's the diorama that helps me make sense of the landscape around the village and beyond – and brings D-Day to life. See memorial-pegasus.org.

- Lynne Whiley


Nothing quite prepared me for the Galapagos Islands. Sure, I'd read about the numbers and variety of animals and their docile natures, but it wasn't until I travelled here in February that the words developed reality.

One afternoon, a Galapagos sealion commandeered our catamaran for a nap.

On island paths, I'd be forced to step over nesting blue-footed boobies, receiving only quizzical avian looks in return. Guides continually reminded visitors that they couldn't touch the blithely oblivious critters, but then one morning on Espanola Island, as my guide restated the rules, a sealion pup shuffled over the sand and rested its chin on my foot. Clearly nobody had told the animals that they couldn't touch the humans.

- Andrew Bain


India is one of those destinations that rarely disappoints – unless your tummy gets the better of you. My first trip to India was all I expected and more.

You've seen the Taj Mahal gazillion times on telly but nothing can match its pale, reserved beauty in living colour. I could only get away in July due to work commitments but I need not have worried.

Jamshyd Sethna, of Banyan Tours, devised the perfect "hot summer" first-timers itinerary – New Delhi (luxe airconditioned hotels, great food, shopping and funky galleries); Agra (to see the Taj); and a week in Ladakh, including an exhilarating white water raft down the Zanskar. My next trip will include serious time in Rajasthan. The ruins of Hampi; the spectacular Nilgiris and Kashmir are also high on my India bucket list.

- Fiona Carruthers


New Orleans, that most un-American of American cities. It's where you become a cooler version of you (could be the cocktails talking). You strut the streets wearing less (it's hot), dance in local bars (the music's hotter) and maybe shake a little Louisiana hot sauce into an Abita beer.

At Jazz Fest, the Treme Brass Band led a funeral parade for one of its own with a rendition of Amazing Grace as meandering as the Mississippi. Returning to town, an Ohio doctor confessed he visits annually to replenish his soul. Hallelujah to the best goddamn medicine around. April 25-May 4, nojazzfest.com.

- Katrina Lobley


Digital travel editor Craig Platt lists the most clicked stories on Traveller.com.au in 2013.

1. Snake hitches a ride on the wing of a Qantas jet (January).

2. Samoa Air announces plans to charge passengers by how much they weigh (April).

3. Study names Iceland as the world's friendliest country (April).

4. Qantas soars back into top 10 in best airline rankings; Emirates named world's best (June).

5. Secret spots: 10 places around the world you can never visit (March).

6. British, Finnish and Swedish passports named the best for travellers (October).

7. TripAdvisor names Lampedusa island beach as the world's best (February).

8. The truth about being an international flight attendant (July).

9. World's most expensive cities for tourists named (June).

10. Ben Groundwater on how Gen Y sucked the fun out of travel (May).


Traveller's Tripologist Michael Gebicki on his loves and hates for 2013.


The expanded baggage allowance the majors are offering on many international flights. Super-size me, please!

Budget-airline economy cabins that are off-limits to under-12s.

Cloud storage. Terabytes of my own music, films and images, all afloat and readily accessible.

Airlines that sell unsold business-class seats at a huge discount.

Bucket-list travellers with passion. The clock might be ticking, but those baby boomers are running laps around the world.


The rise of the selfie. Get someone else to snap you in front of the Eiffel Tower, it's a better look and you might meet someone interesting.

Airport body scanners. Go ahead, unmake my day.

The shrinking Aussie dollar. Sayonara good times, hello Pacific peso?

The increasing tendency to regard a backpack of any size as a carry-on item.

The advent of clear glass walls between bathroom and bedroom in some cheeky chic hotels. No thanks.