Dreams do come true

Six global wanderers reveal their ultimate destinations.

Viknaslodir, Iceland
Richard Tulloch

There are places you go to meet fascinating people and places you hope to meet nobody at all.

If your dream destination involves escaping the teeming crowds, Iceland is your kind of place. Imagine half the population of the Hunter Valley sprinkled around the rim of an island bigger than Tasmania, only with worse weather.

No one lives in the volcanic mountains of Iceland's north-east corner, the Viknaslodir region. A few hardy fishermen eke an existence on the coast but the hinterland is uninhabited. There are good reasons for this: it's covered with snow much of the year, there's nothing to eat unless you're a moss-nibbling reindeer and there's precious little shelter from the icy winds. And there's no wi-fi.

Yet on a clear, warm summer's day this is one of the most spectacular parts of the planet, an unforgettable experience for those lucky enough to have seen it. There is range beyond glittering range of rugged mountains, improbably green hillsides, bright wildflowers, waterfalls tumbling out of every crevice and blankets of mist trapped in deep fiords.

It's a bit of a slog to get there – a flight from Reykjavik across the country in a small plane, a four-wheel-drive trip into the mountains and a few hours' trudging on foot. None of this is insurmountable – a guiding company can organise the logistics. Naturally, though, you do your own trudging.

After that you can have it all to yourself. The edge of the world.

Must see The midnight sun shining on the snow-capped peaks from July to September.

Must do Hiking adventures can be arranged through guiding company 50 Degrees North. 1300 422 821, fiftydegreesnorth.com.

Must stay You have choice. Carry a tent or sleep in an Icelandic Touring Association hut. Huts are warm, modern and communal and cost 4500 Icelandic kronur (about $36) a person a night. The view makes any discomfort seem trivial. fi.is.

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Must eat You might draw the line at the rotten shark heads Icelanders swear by but they also have wild salmon on heavy rye bread.

More information mountainguides.is, visiticeland.org.

Tikehau, French Polynesia
Ben Groundwater

If you have ever harboured Blue Lagoon-style dreams of being shipwrecked in paradise, then jump in a rickety boat and set sail for Tikehau. Right now. The Tahitian atoll is everything a deserted island should be: a small ring of sand and palm trees surrounded by nothing but the warm, blue waters of the Pacific Ocean. A grand total of about 500 people call this island home and I'm jealous of every single one of them.

Because it's not just where you are but what you can do there.

I arrived in Tikehau expecting a sedate couple of days that would be quietly whiled away in some cookie-cutter resort. I left having had the sort of action-packed adventure of sea and surf that you see only in movies and beer commercials.

Want to go scuba diving? You've got Tikehau's huge coral reef all to yourself. Want to go surfing? There are two perfect breaks that peel off from either side of the lagoon entrance. And they're deserted. Want to go fishing? There are tuna as long as your arm waiting to leap into the boat.

It's all just dreamily, unbelievably perfect. If this is what being shipwrecked feels like, then I would very much like to be shipwrecked.

Must do Scuba dive at the mouth of the lagoon to check out the sharks and huge schools of tuna and barracuda. Once you're back on the surface, drop a line in and catch your dinner.

Must see Bird Island is an aptly named outcrop in the middle of the Tikehau lagoon and is home to thousands of nesting terns and boobies. You'll need a boat to get there but that's easily arranged.

Must eat Whatever you can catch. This is subsistence living at its finest. Go for the freshest tuna sashimi you'll ever have, or pan-fry a few smaller fish whole for breakfast after your morning's work.

Must stay Motu Ninamu resort is the sort of place you'll be picturing dreamily from your office cubicle for the rest of your life. Friendly owners, private bungalows and as much or as little offshore action as you like. motuninamu.com.

More information www.tahitinow.com.au.

Rome, Italy
Julietta Jameson

Rome is literally the city of my dreams – I dream of it regularly. I daydream about it.

And when I get there, I get all teary because unlike a lot in life, the reality of Rome's splendour far surpasses any representation of it the subconscious can muster.

It's the golden Italian light. The incomparable concentration of art, history and culture. The food and wine. The conviviality of the Romans themselves. And the way all that makes me feel about myself.

In Rome, I find a connection to all that is beautiful about life. And that in turn allows me to reconnect with the beauty in me.

I have a routine. On the first evening of every Rome visit I go to the church Santa Maria del Popolo to see its awe-inspiring array of art by Bernini and Raphael, among others. My favourite work there is Caravaggio's Conversion on the Way to Damascus.

I cross Piazza del Popolo, leaving the touristy alfresco cafes behind, and head for one of the city's fabulous side-street wine bars frequented by locals – 'Gusto is a favourite.

Then I head to a trattoria, perhaps Il Gabriello, housed in the cellar of an old palazzo. I eat some pasta, drink some wine and go to bed early.

Because the next day I will just walk, going wherever the city, with its bounty of sights and experiences, takes me.

Must see The Ara Pacis Museum designed by Richard Meier protects the Ara Pacis, a stunning relic that once hosted sacrificial offerings to Roman gods. This is old and new in harmony. arapacis.it.

Must do Isola Tiberina, or Tiber Island, is reachable via a bridge built in 62BC. In summer it hosts the Isola del Cinema film festival. At other times, it's fabulous for a picnic.

Must eat La Pergola is Rome's only three-Michelin-starred restaurant. On the top floor of the Cavalieri Hotel, it has perhaps the best menu, cellar (53,000 bottles) and view in Rome. romecavalieri.com/lapergola.php.

Must stay Hotel de Russie is the current hot celeb spot, featuring an enchanting, meandering interior "Secret Garden". In warmer months it becomes the open Stravinskij Bar. Zac Efron was a recent guest. hotelderussie.it.

More information italia.it.

Galapagos Islands
Ute Junker

I've slept in seven-star hotels, explored ancient ruins, eaten in the world's best restaurants but, if I'm honest, the most mind-blowing experiences in my travels have been wildlife encounters. The opportunity to watch wild animals in their natural habitat never ceases to thrill me and nowhere can you have such intimate wildlife encounters as on the Galapagos Islands.

Most people know the basics. The absence of predators on the islands, in an empty stretch of ocean way off the coast of Ecuador, has made the wildlife nonchalant about encounters with humans. It's not until you get there, however, that you can really grasp what that means.

There's no sitting in jeeps peering through binoculars. On one island, we stepped over boobies (that's the bird, in case you're wondering) that had built their nests in the middle of the path and continued preening themselves as we walked past. We watched courting pairs of waved albatrosses perform their elaborate mating dance a metre away. We waited as giant tortoises lumbered past us to munch on a particularly succulent piece of vine, and threw ourselves onto the sand inches away from sea lions for fantastic photos.

Must do Get wet. Snorkelling is an essential part of any Galapagos experience, exposing you to a whole new world of wildlife encounters. The highlights are the sea lions. So slothful on the land, they turn into playful companions, swimming around you in spirals, skimming beneath your stomach and generally showing off.

Must see Climb up the barren, lava-scarred slopes of Bartolome Island for the best view in the archipelago – a scenic bay vista dominated by Pinnacle Rock.

Must eat They're keen on soup in Ecuador – seriously so. With all that fabulously fresh fish on offer, make sure you try a ceviche soup. The tangy tastes of lime, Spanish onion and coriander hit the spot after an afternoon of snorkelling.

Must stay The MY Grace must be the most romantic vessel plying the Galapagos. Princess Grace and Prince Rainier of Monaco honeymooned aboard the yacht, which was a honeymoon present from Aristotle Onassis. With just nine cabins, it's an intimate cruising experience that lets you escape the crowds.

More information Natural Focus Safaris, 1300 363 302, naturalfocussafaris.com.au.

Okavango Delta, Botswana
Julie Miller

We are on a mission of stealth, creeping up silently on our prey. He's hard to miss – a massive bull elephant, travelling solo through the golden grasslands of the Okavango plain. He stares at us curiously, at first unfazed by the hybrid creatures 25 metres away but increasingly nervous as his keen olfactory organ catches a whiff of potential danger – man. Trunk raised and ears flapping, he mock charges to warn we have come too close. Body language understood – time to retreat.

For my mount Linyati, this is just another encounter with a wild creature sharing his oversized paddock. For me, it's the most thrilling, nerve-racking and unbelievable moment ever, the fulfilment of a lifelong dream from the best game-viewing vantage point possible – the back of a horse.

Okavango Horse Safaris is based on 2500 square kilometres of private concession near Moremi Game Reserve, a short flight from the city of Maun. This is pure wilderness – no fences, no tarred roads, no sign of other human habitation. In terms of wildlife sightings, the Okavango Delta is a treasure trove that teems with animals and birds that flock to its life-giving waters and abundant feeding grounds. Exploring this veritable Garden of Eden on horseback is surely the ultimate safari, one in which you are a participant in the environment, not just a casual observer. And in the case of a quick getaway, we have speed in our favour as well.

Must do Visit between July and September, when the water level in the flood plain is still high. With deep, croc-infested channels to swim across bareback, it's a challenging but exhilarating riding experience and one that's recommended only for experienced and confident riders.

Must see Visitors to the Okavango Delta come to see one thing – the wildlife. And you won't be disappointed – lions, cheetahs and packs of wild dogs hunt on the open veld, while herds of wildebeest, giraffe, zebra and buffalo congregate on flood plains surrounding waterholes.

Must eat Gourmet bush kitchen fare, with sundowners provided in a scenic location every evening.

Must stay Okavango Horse Safaris' permanent base camp is Kujwana, which overlooks a lagoon on the Xudum river. Accommodation for a maximum of 12 guests is in large, safari-style tents on raised decks, with comfy beds, flushing toilets and hot running water.

More information okavangohorse.com.

Banda, Indonesia
Michael Gebicki

According to their ships' logs, when 17th-century European mariners approached Banda they could find the island by its smell alone. It was the scent of nutmeg. Although the dominant aroma in the nostrils of modern voyagers is more likely to be diesel exhaust from the Pelni ship, which is the island's only reliable transport link to the wider world, Banda has lost none of its exotic appeal.

Close to the eastern edge of the Indonesian archipelago, Banda is the original source of nutmeg and was once the jewel in the crown of the Dutch East India Company.

When the island's nutmeg monopoly ended during the Napoleonic Wars, Banda fell into a coma. What remains is a castaway island with the decaying apparatus of colonial enterprise – hot, lethargic, beautiful beyond words and bitter-sweet with cruel history.

Crumbling forts crown its hilltops like rotting molars; the beach in front of the former Dutch administration buildings is strewn with pottery shards once imported in ships' holds from China.

In the rambling main street, visitors can buy antique plates inscribed with the coat of arms of the Dutch East India Company.

It's also tailor-made for adventure. Banda lies on the edge of the Raja Ampats, an area of extreme underwater biodiversity whose riches are only now being charted by marine biologists. The waters surrounding the island are home to a galaxy of marine life that includes tropical as well as pelagic species.

Just across from the main town of Banda Neira is a live volcano that still sends fire and brimstone into the heavens at regular intervals.

It's not for those who like their travel cut and dried but for connoisseurs of the exotic, Banda is a heart stealer.

Must do Snorkel off the island's lava flows; early-morning climb to the 666-metre volcanic cone of Gunung Api; visit a spice plantation and buy fresh nutmeg.

Must see The view of the volcano at sunset, over a beer along the quay; the gorgeous mandarinfish that swarm in the waterfront lights in the evening.

Must eat Delfika Cafe, in a historic building on the waterfront.

 Must stay Delfika 2 is a waterside guesthouse with simple but clean airconditioned rooms with bathrooms and internet. Go for one of the two upstairs front rooms.

More information Search under "Banda" at indonesia.travel.

What's your ultimate destination? Post a comment and share your thoughts below.

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