After a monumentally frustrating year of disruption and disappointment, border closures and reopenings, cancellations and refunds, hope is one of the few commodities remaining for travellers.
The global pandemic is far from over, as recent virus outbreaks at home have both grimly illustrated, with Australia also looming as a laggard in the COVID-19 vaccine stakes.
But there's no harm in dreaming, and even planning, for travel in 2021 (and beyond) which is set to offer Australians the prospect of discovering even more of our own backyard and, possibly a limited amount of international travel.
Certainly, there's no shortage of new attractions and experiences for travellers to contemplate. Never been to the Kimberley in Western Australia? Get there, if you can (or are allowed), it has wildlife and wild natural beauty to rival any pristine wilderness in the world.
Always thought about attending the MONA's weird and wonderful Dark Mofo winter festival in Hobart? Go in 2021, borders allowing. You'll discover arty inspiration befitting New York or London, only with a distinct homegrown flavour.
Then there's the potential, and problematic, travel bubbles with destinations such as New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam and the Pacific Islands that may begin to emerge as the year progresses.
To inspire you to dust off the luggage and get going again, here are some highlights for the travel year, however it may or may not, materialise.
There are two new CABN accommodations coming in 2021
Newcastle has evolved into an innovative beach city with a light rail system for ease of exploration and plentiful culture, history and modernity. Coming in 2021 is a QT Hotel at the site of the historic former David Jones building, the 106-room hotel will have a rooftop bar and stylish decor that nods to the past (qthotels.com). Newcastle is also getting its first five-star hotel, in Kingsley Crystalbrook (crystalbrookcollection.com), with 130 rooms in a new building, right in the heart of town.
In Tasmania, the Movenpick brand debuts in Australia with Movenpick Hotel Hobart (movenpick.com) occupying a sensitively designed new building on Elizabeth Street within the city's heritage precinct.
The new year also sees three new neighbourhood-focused Hotel Indigo (ihg.com) properties coming on line: in Brisbane's Fortitude Valley, at Adelaide Central Market and in Sydney's Haymarket.
And after delays, the much-anticipated W Melbourne (marriott.com.au) opens, adding to the Victorian capital's cache of grand digs.
In Western Australia, where borders to visitors tend to close more than they open, the heritage-listed Warder's Cottages (wardershotel.com.au) in the port city of Fremantle, just south of central Perth, have been beautifully restored and reopened as the boutique Warders Hotel.
Small-house-style, off-grid accommodation specialist CABN opens its first "premium" offerings in the second quarter of 2021, this time in McLaren Vale, South Australia. Having set up in other divine vineyard and bush settings in Victoria and Queensland as well as South Australia, the two new CABN cabins, bookable now, are on the biodynamic vineyard of Gemtree Wines, and offer coastal views to Port Willunga with a high-end finish (cabn.life)
JW Marriott Gold Coast.
After a $35 million renovation, a much-loved Surfers Paradise property becomes the JW Marriott Gold Coast Resort and Spa (marriott.com.au), the first for the brand in Australia, and the famous lagoon pool remains. In the Thai capital, the hotly-anticipated Four Seasons Hotel at Chao Phraya River (fourseasons.com) finally welcomes guests while also on the river, but on Bang Krachao island, across from Bangkok, RAKxa Fully Integrated Wellness & Medical Wellness (rakxawellness.com) offers holistic healing in a luxury setting.
The pool at Azerai Ke Ga Bay in Vietnam.
Elsewhere in south-east Asia, Azerai Ke Ga Bay (azerai.com), an elegant and secluded oceanfront retreat in Vietnam - which, like Thailand, has a strong record in managing the spread of COVID-19 - debuts, 180 kilometres east of Saigon on a sweeping five-kilometre white sand beach. American motivational guru Tony Robbins has expanded his business on Fiji's Vanua Lavu at Savusavu. Wasawasa Lodge, which, despite devastating Cyclone Yasa, opens mid-January, is a 16-room little brother of Robbins' luxury Namale Resort & Spa and Wasawasa Event Center where he runs his programs (namalefiji.com).
CULTURE AND EVENTS
Having forged a name as a destination in itself, Bendigo Art Gallery (bendigoregion.com.au) in the eponymous central Victorian city hosts the V&A exhibition showcasing a trail-blazing British mid-century designer: Mary Quant – Fashion Revolutionary, opening on March 20.
In the NSW capital, the Sydney Opera House (sydneyoperahouse.com) has introduced new tours including an architectural itinerary and "Beyond the Stage Door", a backstage experience. Melbourne's ACMI (acmi.net.au) re-opens in February and the reimagining of the Australian Centre of the Moving Image at Federation Square promises to make the facility the best of its kind in the world.
Elsewhere in the Victorian capital, the Melbourne RISING Festival (rising.melbourne) debuts in late May, a winter arts festival headed up by the former artistic director of Dark Mofo. In Perth, the new, $400 million Western Australia Museum Boola Bardip (museum.wa.gov.au) opened late last year with a special exhibition, Songlines:Tracking the Seven Sisters which runs until April 26 (if you manage to make it, beware of sudden border closures).
FOOD AND WINE
Winston in Noosa. Photo: Lachie Millard
Restaurateur Chris Lucas (Chin Chin) and chef Martin Benn (Sydney's Sepia) collaborate to open Society (societyrestaurant.com, lucas.online) in the landmark 80 Collins Street building in Melbourne, in late March 2021. On Queensland's Sunshine Coast, Noosa's reputation as a foodie destination is further enhanced with the opening of Winston, a Chef in Residence (winstonrestaurant.com.au).
The Noosa Sound restaurant is the showcase for Cameron Matthews, a local star previously with Spicers Retreats. In an entirely different vein, central western NSW's historic Cowra Japanese Garden (cowra.com.au) offers new Twilight Picnics, with after-hours access and a gourmet hamper.
On the other side of the country, a landmark restaurant, Cooee (cooeeperth.com) awaits in the historic Old Swan Brewery site below Kings Park on the banks of the Swan River). Also in WA, Monty's Leap Winery (montysleap.com.au) in the Great Southern region near Albany offers stunning views of the rolling hills and Kalgan River and its new restaurant menu will hero fresh local and seasonal produce with a Southern French influence.
Perth's family-friendly Bailey Brewing Co (baileybrewingco.com.au) has opened in the Swan Valley on a 10-acre property.
The much-delayed Wildlife Wonders (conservationecologycentre.org) finally opens on Victoria's Great Ocean Road. It's an outdoor, interactive attraction showcasing the region's endemic animals with sparkle added by Brian Massey of The Hobbit (art director) and Lord of the Rings (greensmaster) movies fame.
Also in Victoria, the Grampians Peak Trail (parks.vic.gov.au) launches, a new 160-kilometre trail and multi-day walk, commencing three hours west of Melbourne, and stretching the length of the Grampians National Park.
In NSW, the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital (koalahospital.org.au) launches the world's first wild koala breeding program. It will be housed in a new facility - built on land owned by Forestry Corporation NSW in Cowarra State Forest where rehabilitation and breeding will take place.
And a new NSW airline Alt Air, operated by Sydney Seaplanes (seaplanes.com.au) will commence flights from Sydney's Rose Bay to Canberra's Lake Burley Griffin ahead of a roll-out of scheduled services to more than 10 NSW regional and rural destinations. September 2021 will mark the 40th anniversary of Sydney Tower (sydneytowereye.com.au), still the tallest structure in Sydney. There'll be celebrations including the Sydney Tower Eye Observation Deck and SKYWALK.
A new era is set to dawn for the cruising industry as it introduces new contactless tech and health protocols in order to remain viable in the age of COVID-19. Cruise lines will be hoping for a green light from authorities to resume sailing in Australian waters in the latter part of the year.
Celebrity Cruises (celebritycruises.com) will debut Celebrity Eclipse in local waters for 2021-22. She'll sail 19 voyages in and around Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific, from October 8, 2021 through to April 17, 2022. This includes some sailings of Celebrity's new five-star packages that have Wi-Fi, drinks and service charges included in the fare.
Due to buoyant interest, French luxury small ship operator Ponant (ponant.com) has extended its 2021 Kimberley expedition season by three to 19 departures onboard Le Soleal across a range of itineraries. It's also added a further three new itineraries exploring the Western Australia coastline and offshore reefs.
Fellow luxury cruisers Silversea (silversea.com) will ply the Darwin-Broome routes as well). Australians can hopefully spend the 2021 festive season under sail, along the Great Barrier Reef and through the Whitsunday Islands aboard the world's largest and newest sailing ship, Golden Horizon, as part of a new 16-night package offered by Cruise Traveller (cruisetraveller.com.au).
Elsewhere in the world, smaller ship line Oceania has added new itineraries to off-the-beaten-track destinations, including one that takes in holy sites in India, the Middle East and south-east Asia over 39 days between Singapore and Rome from mid-May (oceaniacruises.com). When it begins sailing again, Viking Cruises will enforce daily in-room PCR saliva tests for both crew and guests. The COVID-19 checks will be processed in an onboard lab on ocean-going ships, or shore facilities for river cruises. Viking's first lab has been installed on Viking Star. Expect more news as 2021 unfolds.
Naumi Studio Hotel Wellington.
Let's kick off with one of the most elusive state destinations, shall we? Western Australia (westernaustralia.com) may have played hard to get, keeping those borders firmly shut for longer than many thought reasonable. But what wonders await in WA when the time's right.
HeliSpirit (helispirit.com.au) has just launched scenic helicopter flights from Esperance in WA's Golden Outback region surveying the stunning coastline, pink Lake Hillier and Middle Island. Globus (globus.com.au) and Cosmos (cosmostours.com.au) have announced new WA itineraries.
Elsewhere, the New Zealand government agreed in principle to establish a trans-Tasman bubble with Australia early this year but that was before the latest series of regrettable COVID-19 setbacks on our side of the ditch.
But remember what we said about hope? Let's stay sanguine and look forward to Auckland, the Kiwis' biggest city, welcoming their neighbours to the new Craft Beer and Food Festival (aucklandbeerfestival.co.nz) from March 21 with the multipurpose Spark Arena in inner-city Parnell transformed into "Auckland's biggest beer garden".
Elsewhere in the "other" harbour city, Horizon Hotel (skycityauckland.co.nz) is set to open, with 303 rooms and suites above a retail and dining laneway with air bridge connectivity to SKYCITY. The smaller, more compact New Zealand capital gets a Sebel with the June opening of Sebel Wellington Lower Hutt (all.accor.com) while ultra-funky, quirky brand Naumi (naumihotels.com), originally from Singapore, opens Naumi Studio Hotel Wellington alongside The Central by Naumi Hotels and The Dairy Private Hotel by Naumi, both in Queenstown.
Despite a recent troubling surge in COVID-19 cases, Japan looms large as eventual travel bubble candidate with Australia and other nations seen to have managed the virus well. The date? That remains anyone's guess.
Though reports suggest travel will be small-group tours only initially, there are properties to put on your wish list, such as the northern autumn opening of Roku Kyoto (hilton.com), the first of Hilton's luxury brand LXR Hotels & Resorts to open in Asia. At the foothills of the Takagamine mountains in the northern part of Kyoto, the new 114-room property is in walking distance of Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavilion.
Elsewhere in Kyoto, Hotel the Mitsui (hotelthemitsui.com) has just opened with its own source of spring water feeding onsen facilities. It's from a team that includes Andre Fu who is behind Hong Kong's The Upper House.
In Singapore, a strong, early travel bubble contender with Australia, Accor, which counts the city state as its south-east Asia home, has teamed with Wildlife Reserves Singapore (wrs.com.sg), enabling Accor loyalty program members to redeem points for exclusive behind-the scenes experiences at various parks, including at the world-renowned Singapore Zoo and Night Safari, where exclusive small-group tours will include a meeting with Dr Luis Carlos Neves, Director of Zoology.
THE BEST OF THE REST OF WORLD
A host of stunning new 2021 hotels and resort openings overseas await Australians when they can once again traverse the globe.
KISAWA SANCTUARY, MOZAMBIQUE
This unusual safari-style lodge is set to open on unspoiled Benguerra Island. Stay in one of 12 beautiful bungalows, each in a 4000 square metre plot, to witness extraordinary wildlife, including flamingos, dugongs and whale sharks. See kisawasanctuary.com
FOUR SEASONS NEW ORLEANS, US
The Four Seasons Hotel New Orleans will offer the opportunity to stay in the landmark, 33-storey World Trade Mart building, built in 1967, on the Mississippi River and designed by mid-century architect Edward Durrell Stone. See fourseasons.com
SIYAM WORLD, MALDIVES
Stays at the new Siyam World in the Maldives will come at an all-inclusive four-star price. The considerable selling points include no less than a dozen restaurants and bars, 24-hour food service, a kids' club and waterpark. See sunsiyam.com
The high-end Anantara brand takes on the Seychelles with this ultra-luxury resort with villas designed by the legendary Bill Bensley, best known for his south-east Asian hotels and resorts. He last wowed the world with his Shinta Mani Wild camp in Cambodia. See anantara.com
MONDRIAN SHOREDITCH, LONDON, UK
The groovy, designed-driven Mondrian brand is set to return to London when it takes over the Curtain Hotel in Shoreditch, billed as London's creative and cultural hub. The Mondrian will also feature a restaurant by Spanish celebrity chef Dani Garcia. See all.accor.com; sbe.com