The destinations Australians can't wait to return to (once COVID-19 is over)

We're itching to get back out there; champing at the bit. The Traveller team – as with all of the passionate wanderers flipping through this section – is grounded right now, and it's not an enjoyable feeling.

Suddenly we find ourselves dreaming of check-in queues and security scans. We're hungering for meals on trays. We're pining for jet-lag and sunburn and travellers' discombobulation.

Of course, the world has changed immeasurably in the past few weeks. Right now the best and safest and really only thing to do is sit tight and wait for the planet to realign itself, for a foe to be defeated and the world to move ahead. Then we can travel again. Until such time occurs, however, all we can do is wait, and dream, and plan.

To that end, we've begun to consider just how we'll get back on the travel horse when it's safe to do so. Where will we go first? What's the one place we're really missing, the one destination that so perfectly captures our love of travel and will inspire all of those feelings of joy and excitement and adventure once again? Which destination is most deserving of our patronage once the world is ready to welcome travellers back?

For some, the answer is close to home, to stay local and support communities who have been hard-hit not just by the coronavirus, but by the horrific bushfire season we've all just endured. For others, the ultimate getaway lies further afield, somewhere exotic, somewhere that delivers that feeling of beautiful bewilderment that only travel can provide.

The common thread here is a desire to reconnect with our passion, to look forward to a time when we can all get back out there and do what we love best. Until then, we dream and we plan. - BEN GROUNDWATER

I CAN'T WAIT TO GET BACK TO...LONDON

BY PAUL CHAI

As a confirmed city person, my previous idea of social distancing was standing far enough back at a gig that I didn't spill my pint on the person in front of me, so when this is all over I will dive back into the river of humanity that is London. Living in the UK capital for a decade I loved that I could pick any Tube stop at random and find my new favourite pub, park and greasy spoon. It's a hot mess of a metropolis that celebrates creativity, diversity and culture with a population big enough to sustain a museum dedicated to surgery and club nights dedicated to Disco Polo.

I will start on the banks of the Thames, with a visit to the Tate Modern where I'll grab coffee at the riverside café and people watch. Then it is a bankside stroll to Borough Market to follow the crowds to Brindisa, which does the best chorizo roll that exists anywhere.

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I can't eat one because lunch is back along the river near Charing Cross station at Gordon's Wine Bar, reputed to be London's oldest. Here you can have a Ploughman's lunch in the candlelit cavern of a cellar on a wobbly wooden table knocking elbows with your neighbouring diners as Tube trains make the walls shake as they pass by. Then it's off to Soho to one of the old boozers like the John Snow where you can spill out onto the cobbled street when there's no more room inside.

My day ends at The World's End pub (no pun intended) in Camden seeing an unsigned band at The Underworld, the venue directly beneath, squeezed in with hundreds of other music fans trying desperately not to spill my pint.

I CAN'T WAIT TO GET BACK TO....NEPAL

Annapurna base camp at 4310 Meter above sea level sunmar29cover
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Annapurna base camp at 4310 metres above sea level. Photo: iStock

BY ANDREW BAIN

As I write this, I really should be packing. I'm booked to take my teenage children trekking in Nepal, with a few days in Hong Kong on our way home - a chance to show them the high mountains and the high rises of Asia. Except, of course, we're now not going.

When the world reinflates, I will be seizing the chance to fulfil my long-held dream of introducing my kids to the world's highest mountain range - the place where my own longing for mountains and adventure finds its greatest contentment.

Nepal deserves our small injection of money even more than most places, after a savage succession of events that have cruelled its tourism over the last 25 years: the Maoist insurgency, the massacre of its royal family, the devastating 2015 earthquake, and now the Covid-19 shutdown.

When we arrive in Kathmandu, we will immerse ourselves in the subcontinental maelstrom of Thamel, and then set out on foot from near Pokhara, following the Annapurna Circuit route towards Poon Hill. Before reaching the famous lookout, we'll turn away, heading up into the less-trodden Mardi Himal, high above the Annapurna Sanctuary.

Eventually we'll climb to around 4200 metres above sea level, giving the kids their first taste of the challenges of altitude and bringing us into the orbit of Machapuchhre, the shapely and unclimbed Fish Tail Mountain that I regard as one of the world's most beautiful peaks. I hope to pause here for a while, breathe in the thin air, and let this mighty mountain remind us of the planet's incredible beauty.

I CAN'T WAIT TO GET BACK TO...ITALY

BY BEN GROUNDWATER

My heart aches for Italy. I'll never forget the sight of the Pantheon, its mighty doors drawn closed, the piazza outside almost empty. I'll always be able to picture the Coliseum with only a scattering of gawkers around its circumference, and Piazza Navona with just a few glum touts trying to entreat people into their restaurant I was in Italy not so long ago, as COVID-19 hit.

I watched as the country slowly – and then swiftly – shut down, as this approaching army began to fire its first shots and even Rome was forced to cower.

I watched as new friends' businesses crumbled: Sarah Cicolini, the powerhouse 31-year-old who butchers calves' heads for a living, who turns them into gourmet treats at her amazing restaurant, Santo Palato; Pino and Julia Ficara, the wonderful, kind-hearted pasta masters who run the Grano e Farina cooking school.

Great people. Successful, fantastic businesses. Dealt tragic blows.

As soon as the world returns to normal, I want to get back to Italy and finish a holiday and an experience that was cut short. I want to help, too. I want to eat coppa di testa at Santo Palato, and learn the art of the sfogline at Grano e Farina. I want to support a country and a people who have been through the hardest times, times I saw unfold with horror.

La dolce vita. Life will be sweet in Italy once again. And I want to be there to see it return.

I CAN'T WAIT TO GET BACK TO...EGYPT

Lucca, Italy. View of Piazza dell'Anfiteatro square through the arch sunmar29cover
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Piazza dell'Anfiteatro square, Lucca, Italy. Photo: iStock

BY BELINDA JACKSON

Summer is mango season in Cairo, when its 11 types of mango start to fill the fruit carts that decorate the roadsides. And as this is a country that loves a good debate, the topics of football and politics are replaced by mangoes.

Everyone has their favourite, from the big, sugar-sweet awees mangoes to the tart alfons, which are my mango of choice. We pull into cafes and order chunky, icy mango juice for the road: when I return to Egypt, that road will be leading to the Step Pyramid of Djoser.

It's located in Saqqara, on the outskirts of Cairo, and at 4,600 years of age, is Egypt's oldest pyramid. Last time I saw it, its exterior was laced in rickety timber scaffolding, now been peeled off to reveal the results of its $6.6 million, 14-year renovation. It's said there are more than five lokm of tunnels beneath the limestone pyramid, with the pharoah's tomb 28 metres below ground.

It's also been too long since I rode a horse across the Giza Plateau, from the stables in the shadow of the Great Pyramids to Saqqara. Along the way, you pass crumbling mastabas of pharaohs forgotten by all save mad keen Egyptologists, overshadowed by their more publicity-savvy peers.

I'll also I'd like to say that I'd also visit the new Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza, which will be the world's largest archaeology museum when it opens. It's scheduled to fling open the doors in October, but after years of delay, I'm sceptical of that date.

I CAN'T WAIT TO GET BACK TO...THE BALKANS

BY TIM RICHARDS

Once we're all back in the air, the first place I'll be heading to the Balkans. I'd been set to visit this region of Europe when the COVID-19 balloon went up, and reluctantly had to cancel flights and other bookings.

My wife and I were heading to Athens first, with a Balkan Flexipass from Rail Europe tucked into our passports. After exploring the Greek capital, we intended to spend six weeks travelling by train through Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro and Romania (we're both keen on a bit of vampire lore) beforereaching Istanbul.

It was going to be a special trip for us; by visiting before the summer crowds, we hoped to book nothing ahead, making it up as we went. That was how we did our first overseas journey in pre-Internet 1990, when we used a rail pass to traipse around Britain.

It was not to be. But I'm still keen to go.

Aside from the tasty food and drink to be had in that part of the continent, and its cultural treasures, there are marvellous railways to enjoy. From Serbia, the Belgrade to Bar Railway traverses spectacular mountains to reach the Adriatic. In Bulgaria there's a narrow-gauge train to the mountain resort town of Bansko. And the trip was to conclude aboard the nightly sleeper train from Sofia to Istanbul.

It can still all happen; and I imagine the locals will be happy for our spending when we finally arrive.

I CAN'T WAIT TO GET BACK TO...ETHIOPIA

BY SUE WILLIAMS

Ethiopia is the most mind-blowingly fascinating country in the world. Stunning landscapes, tick. Ancient buildings in inaccessible places which defy both understanding and imagination, tick.

And a kaleidoscope of humanity, from devout Christians in flowing white robes in the north to colourful tribespeople in extraordinary costumes and arrays of items inserted into their bodies in the south, practising some of most traditional cultures on earth.

Once lauded as the birthplace of humanity, it'd be a fitting country to revisit on its rebirth after the shutdown of life as we know it caused by the COVID-19 crisis.

It's like an abbreviated lesson in everything that we've ever held to be important.

It shows the determined resurgence of civilisations after being conquered by everything from drought to battle, in a land that ranges from towering mountains and remote gorges to the lowest place on the African continent, the Danakil Depression, often described as the most hostile environment on the globe.

As such, everywhere you look, there's clear and forceful evidence of the resilience of the human spirit in overcoming absolutely anything, and everything, that can be thrown at it; enormously reassuring at times like this.

Finally, of course, there's the local contribution to the history of Ethiopia to pay homage to. Australian saint Dr Catherine Hamlin went over there in 1959 and set up the world's first fistula hospital to save women maimed by childbirth, and her work will now continue well beyond her recent death.

And there's no one who'd be a mightier, and more courageous lesson in overcoming towering odds …

I CAN'T WAIT TO GET BACK TO...INDIA

Holy town Varanasi and bank of the Ganges river with ghats sunmar29cover
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Holy town Varanasi on the bank of the Ganges River. Photo: iStock

 

BY CRAIG TANSLEY

Perhaps it's strange that the first place anyone might want to travel to after these COVID-19 times is to the second-most populated country on Earth. To cities like Mumbai and Delhi, home to 20 million-plus residents, all crammed together, mixing in sweaty, crowded streets.

But I thought long and hard about this: sure, it's tempting to want to tread carefully back into the world at its most remote edges (islands perhaps, especially in the Pacific: where else seems safer right now?), far from crowds, and the risk of viruses.

But when it's safe, I'll be so done with isolation. I'll crave contact… human enclosure, tight as I can find. When this is over, I'm going to feast on human company.

I'll rub sweaty shoulders with India in the chaos of Chandi Chowk in Old Delhi, and Crawford Market in Mumbai – two of the busiest markets on Earth. For

wasn't it the Dalai Lama who said: "No matter how strong we may feel; our survival depends on others"?

I CAN'T WAIT TO GET BACK TO...IRELAND

BY JULIETTA JAMESON

The Irish pub is traditionally about bringing people closer together, through good times and bad, famine and feast. In days when we must keep apart, memories of hours spent in Irish pubs seem like the pinnacle of freedom and fun.

Of course, from Chiang Mai, to Chicago, Melbourne to Moscow, the millennia-old Irish pub prototype has proliferated worldwide. You can bring Guinness, leprechaun ornaments, clover motifs and roaring open fires together on any high street in the world and Irish backpackers will come. But – aside from the fact that cultural appropriation is a dodgy business – only Ireland can offer the real Irish pub experience.

That's because there's deep soul, history, connection and cultural purpose to a proper "local" in Ireland. And that is simply not replicable elsewhere.

It felt an absolute tragedy that all Irish pubs were ordered closed on the eve of St Patrick's Day. But like all hospitality establishments, they too, shall open again.

And when they do, I'll be touring my favourite cities, towns and villages on the Emerald Isle to visit O'Loclainn's in Ballyvaughan, Tigh Neachtain's in Galway, De Barra in Clonakilty, Hargadons in Sligo.

I can already hear the bodhrans and tin whistles of the trad bands over the chorus of lilting accent in spirited conversation. See the burgeoning petunia pots hanging from gilded exteriors. Taste the whiskey (a Red Breast for me, thanks) and the Guinness pie and mash.

And I can feel the exhilaration of the craic, that particular brand of good time you can only find in Ireland.

I CAN'T WANT TO GET BACK TO...INDONESIA

Aerial view of a beautiful bay with a white sand beach in the famous Komodo National Park in Flores island of Indonesia. Komodo is world wide famous for the diving sites and the Komodo dragon and holds also beautiful white sand beaches like this one. sunmar29cover
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A white sand beach in the famous Komodo National Park, Flores island, Indonesia. Photo: iStock

BY BRIAN JOHNSTON

Just recently I sailed on an expedition cruise between Darwin and Makassar to some of Indonesia's less-visited islands. The destinations were compromised by the coronavirus, but what I did see was titillating enough that I hope to return as soon as Coral Expeditions resumes its adventurous itineraries.

The island landscapes are glorious. In the Alor Archipelago multiple volcanos loom, and verdant rainforest tumbles down to golden beaches. With hardly a sign of human life, you expect dinosaurs to come crashing out of the undergrowth. In Flores, the coastline is magnificently crumpled. Winding roads through canyons lead to highland rice terraces and crater lakes whose improbable colours resemble paint.

On Palau Tinabo, coconut and casuarina trees are a green mohawk rising from a sapphire-blue lagoon. You can leap from the end of a rickety national-park jetty and have one of the best snorkels of your life above a drop-off formed by shelves of spectacular coral. Shoals of silver fish sparkle like light thrown off a disco ball. There are fish of every hue and stripe, and sedately flapping string-rays, and baby reef sharks with black-tipped fins.

I've always loved Indonesia. I rank it as one of the world's most scenic countries. Get away from the over-concreted fleshpots of Bali and you'll find almost universal loveliness. The Spice Islands are cinnamon-scented and pretty. Rather than dragons, Komodo should be famous for its landscapes, scalloped with bays and pronged with rugged mountains. I'd go back in a flash.

I CAN'T WAIT TO GET BACK TO...BHUTAN

BY NINA KARNIKOWSKI

After fantasising about visiting the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan for more than a decade, I finally locked in a ticket for mid-April 2020. Alas, COVID-19 hit, and I now spend my evenings sprawled on the lounge room floor, scouring the internet for photographs and videos of Bhutan as I dream of a time when I can return.

The idea of visiting a carbon-negative country, one that prioritises Gross National Happiness (GNH) over Gross Domestic Product, was what initially beckoned me to the Himalayan kingdom. I imagined that witnessing how GNH affected the functioning of society might hand me the keys to a truly contented life.

Having studied Buddhism for over a decade, I also longed to sink into Bhutan's spiritual side. To drive along steep dirt tracks lined with dzhong fortresses, to light butter lamps in Buddhist temples and to listen to the soundtrack of chanting, saffron-robed monks.

To watch tattered prayer flags flapping in the breeze in emerald valleys ablaze with spring wildflowers, to spin my sins away on prayer wheels and to wake at dawn to meditate. Also, to hike to the country's famous Taktsang Lhakhang or Tiger's Nest Monastery, to learn about the intricately woven national textiles and to watch traditional masked dance performances while eating momo dumplings and sipping butter tea.

I will get to Bhutan, hopefully sooner rather than later. Meanwhile I have my lounge room dreaming to see me through, as I wait for Lisa Napoli's book Radio Shangri-La: What I Learned in Bhutan to land on my doorstep, and remind myself that good things do indeed come to those who wait.

BACK WHERE WE BELONG

GREAT BARRIER REEF, QUEENSLAND

The world's largest coral reef system is something we may just have been taking for granted: not just its health, but our access to it. That's something we can't wait to rectify once Queensland opens its borders to tourists again. From Heron Island to Lady Elliot, Lizard Island to Green, there's so much to explore and admire here both underwater and above.

MARGARET RIVER, WA

Is there a better place on Earth than "Margs"? Can't be many. This is an area that was already spectacularly blessed with beach after beach, with old-growth forest, with bucolic farmland, with friendly little villages and the world's best sunsets. But then along came the wine industry and turned Margaret River into a world-leading gourmet destination as well. Take us back there. Please.

HUON VALLEY, TASMANIA

There's stunning natural beauty in the southernmost part of Australia, green pastures and forest-covered hills, apple orchards and charming little farmhouses. Though Tasmania is off-limits to visitors at the moment, we're very much looking forward to getting back to the Huon and exploring, taking in its natural attractions while enjoying some of the country's best local produce.

ULURU, NORTHERN TERRITORY

There's surely no landmark more representative of Australia than Uluru, the heart of the nation, a symbol so important to both the native Anangu people and those who come to visit. This would be the perfect place to travel to and remember how lucky we are to see this place and to call it our own – something so solid and timeless in world of turmoil.

ADELAIDE HILLS, SA

There are plenty of reasons to want to get to the Adelaide Hills as soon as possible: this is a lovely, laidback part of Australia, home to some of our most exciting wine producers and food purveyors, but it's also a place that was hit hard by the bushfires, and which desperately needs the help that tourism can bring. As soon as we're able, we would love to get back there and eat, drink, explore, and inject some money into the local economy.

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