Well, here we are again, the start of a new year. Have you got your resolutions written down? Perhaps you've already embarked on a 'new year, new you' health kick. There's something quite exciting about the first few weeks of the year, when everything seems a little more possible, more achieveable, don't you think? Well while you're planning your year of success, we'd like to add fuel to the fire, by sharing our must have experiences for the year. We've asked our people from right around the world what places and experiences they're digging to bring you the WOW List 2019: our 50 must-have experiences.
Head into your local Flight Centre store, or pick up a copy of the magazine here.
Here are 10 of our favourite experiences to get your dreaming going:
Stand on the edge of the Darvanza Gas Crater
Words: Claudia Burke Smith, travel expert, Flight Centre Beaumont Street, NSW
Standing on the edge of Darvaza Gas Crater is the ultimate travel bragging right. Turkmenistan allows fewer than 10,000 tourists a year to visit the flaming crater and the weird and wonderful capital of Ashgabat. The gas crater is so off the beaten path there isn’t even a paved road to get there, but being on the edge is the epitome of thrilling. The heat on your skin and the gravity of the crater’s sheer size will imprint a memory you’ll never forget.
Dive into the Bimmah Sinkhole in Oman
Words: Alice Pye, travel expert, Flight Centre Loganholme, Qld
Driving down a dusty dirt road framed by walls of rugged cliffs, less than two hours by road from Oman’s capital city Muscat, I’d never felt such heat and while the sun seemed unforgettable, so too was my first glimpse of the turquoise, shimmering Bimmah Sinkhole. While local legends suggest it was formed by a meteor, this waterhole was naturally created due to limestone erosion and collapsed rocks. I’d never felt more fascinated with nature and had every burning desire (Middle-Eastern heat aside) to race down the steps and jump into the tranquil pool. Floating 20m below the ground, 600m from the ocean, I was lucky to have this spot to myself for a while and have never felt more in touch with the world than in that moment.
Climb Mount Fuji
Words: Sue Johnson, head of campaigns, partnerships & brand marketing, Flight Centre
Japan’s tallest mountain is one of its most recognisable landmarks with its perfectly shaped snow-capped peak. Fuji-san is also one of Japan’s three sacred mountains and a pilgrimage site for centuries. At 3,776m, this volcanic peak occupies a place in the nation’s culture, landscape and tradition. In my mind, the mountain was monolithic.
The official Mt Fuji climbing season is short – just two months. The weather is notoriously fickle and can change in a heartbeat. The high altitude is also a factor as the higher you ascend, the slower you go. I expected the climb to be tough but also very rewarding. I knew there would be moments on the trail when it would be hard, but I also knew the effort would be totally worth it. That said, you should have a reasonable level of fitness in order to climb Mt Fuji.
There are four trails to the top, each with 10 stations. I started on the Subashiri trail on the eastern side of Mt Fuji and merged onto the Yoshida trail at the eighth station. I was told Subashiri is the most scenic but not the easiest trail to follow. The Yoshida trail, in contrast, is the most accessible with the most huts and amenities. At the beginning the landscape is scenic but as you ascend, the vegetation starts to thin, giving way to volcanic rock. It’s what I’d imagine the moon might look like.
The climb was eight hours on the first day, staying overnight in a mountain hut. Be mentally prepared to slumber shoulder to shoulder with strangers – it won’t be the best night’s sleep. Overnight, the weather closed in, making it unsafe to continue to the summit. The descent was six hours, the mountain somehow less foreboding on the way down. I was surprised to enjoy the ascent more than I thought I would. I had to stop every few minutes to catch my breath – an opportunity to turn around and admire the view and appreciate how far I’d climbed. Sitting down for a break and watching the clouds roll across the face of the mountain was nothing short of spectacular. And while I won’t be heading to Everest Base Camp anytime soon, I’m stronger than I give myself credit for.
Dine at the world's best restaurant
Words: Diego Ferreri, digital designer, Flight Centre
With a reservation list that can only be accessed three months in advance, a coveted seat at Osteria Francescana is set to become even more elusive after the Three Michelin-starred restaurant was voted the World’s Best Restaurant of 2018. Under chef-owner Massimo Bottura, the 100-year-old osteria with just 12 tables, dubbed “an avant-garde Italian tasting temple” by Eater.com, offers an a la carte and two tasting menus. Located in the northern Italian town of Modena, Osteria Francescana brings a modern take to the classic Italian kitchen with an exploration of territory and tradition, which includes the famous ‘Oops I dropped the lemon tart’ dish.
Strap into the world's first human catapult
Words: Sam Aldenton, travel writer, Flight Centre
From the wartime origins of ancient Greece and India to the presentday pursuit of thrilling new activities for adrenaline junkies, the humble catapult has come a long way. The latest incarnation of the device used to launch projectiles great distances, that now extends to projecting human beings, is the Nevis Catapult located near Queenstown, of course, the world’s epicentre of adventure. Fancy being fired 500m across New Zealand’s remote Nevis Valley at up to 95km/h in 1.5 seconds flat? Well, now you can!
Sleep underwater in the Maldives
Words: Kimberley Roberts, marketing & communications director, Conrad Maldives Rangali Island
Discover a new perspective on life above and below the ocean with the world’s first-of-its-kind residence, The Muraka at Conrad Maldives Rangali Island. A triumph of modern design and technology, this exclusive three-bedroom, two-level residence is an architectural marvel that sits above and below the surface of the Indian Ocean with a purpose-built undersea bedroom, living room and bathroom as well as sleeping and living spaces above the waves. Muraka, meaning ‘coral’ in the native Dhivehi language, epitomises how the residence lives and thrives among the marine ecosystem of the Indian Ocean.
It’s an extraordinary underwater playground that connects global wanderers to the pulse of the Maldives through an inspired experience that quenches curiosity and nourishes the senses. Opened in November, 2018, guests at The Muraka can expect a dedicated team of 24/7 staff and butler and an experience that will ignite the imagination with thrill-seeking exploration, local dining and cultural offerings, and soul-enriching discoveries designed with meaning and purpose.
Seek a speakeasy in Singapore
Words: Tamara Bloom, graphic designer, Flight Centre
Skip the iconic Singapore Sling at Raffles Hotel for something a little more under the radar. One of Singapore’s best bars lies behind an unmarked door, which leads down to a dimly lit flight of stairs in the Ann Siang nightlife district. Inside, Operation Dagger has dark, industrial decor and a cloud-like light installation above the small bar. Behind the bar, alcohol is housed in apothecary-style moonshine bottles, which adds to the speakeasy vibe. Order one of the experimental cocktails presented in whimsical vessels, such as a pear with a vanilla bean as a straw and smoke billowing from the top. Definitely worth seeking out!
Soar over glaciers by seaplane
Words: Rachael Green, marketing manager, Flight Centre
Gaining altitude in a 10-seater floatplane from Juneau, a mixture of excitement and nervousness took my breath away. I’ve never been concerned about heights or flying, but the thought of soaring over mountains and icefields in a small seaplane bordered between scary and thrilling. Docking in Alaska’s capital city as one of the ports of call on my Princess Cruises itinerary, I watched as the colourful buildings that line the historic waterfront grew smaller, my fears fading as we gained height and started to soar over the lush wilderness of Tongass National Forest and remnants of Juneau’s mining past that frame the city.
On the Wing Airways 5 Glacier Seaplane Exploration Tour, it wasn’t long before I caught my first glimpse of the distinctively majestic glaciers of the Juneau Icefield – 3,900sqkm of sheer beauty. From my window seat, I had a clear view as we glide over deep crevasses that plunge into unseen depths and the blue meltwater pools of Norris, Hole-In-TheWall and East and West Twin Glaciers as well as the famous five-mile-wide Taku Glacier. Thanks to the narration in my headset, I learn that of the 36 named glaciers flowing from the massive Juneau Icefield, Taku Glacier is one of the only glaciers in the world actually advancing, not retreating.
I never understood what people meant when they talked about ‘blue ice’ until I flew over these glaciers. The mesmerising whipped peaks of blue-tinged ice bearing the marks of nature are now etched in my mind. It was the most beautiful, magical and awe-inspiring 40 minutes I’ve ever experienced and time seemed to fly by. Sliding back across the picturesque waters of old Juneau with an iPhone full of images that scarcely did this frozen landscape justice, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face for hours.
Step up Lion Rock
Words: Jess Holmes, travel writer, Flight Centre
If a trip to Sri Lanka, one of 2019’s top emerging destinations, is on your list, hiking Sigiriya, aka Lion Rock, is a must-do. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is arguably the most notable spot in the country and one of the most impressive sites across the South Asia region. The ancient rock fortress was originally the royal palace of one of the nation’s kings, making the hike a worthwhile feat for the history and the scenery.
Lion Rock is in Sri Lanka’s northern Matale District in the Central Province, where the neighbouring village of Habarana makes for an easy departure base. Sigiriya was built more than 1,600 years ago and is an exquisite example of ancient Sri Lankan architecture and landscaping. Today parts of the temple, terrace, lower palace, landscaping and the famous Lion Gate remain across 1.62ha, providing myriad scenery, murals and sites to discover while hiking your way to the top.
The landmark’s magnificence is apparent as soon as you arrive, as the 200m of dazzling orange rock soar high above, encouraging visitors to conquer what remains of the ‘lion’. The three-hour trek may sound daunting, however it is appropriate for almost all ages and levels of fitness, provided appropriate footwear, plenty of water, a hat and sunscreen are all factored into your climb.
A worthwhile stop is the museum, which provides an in-depth history of the significant site, as well as bathrooms. Then, the 1,200 steps that wind their way to the top are best defeated first; they spiral their way through ancient murals and ruins, with several spots en route to step aside, take a breath, and just enjoy the view. After reaching the lion’s paws, prepare yourself for the steepest part of the climb, taking you to the summit where you can relax and recover while walking around the sprawling estate and taking in the inspiring surroundings.
Get a bird's eye view in Peru
Words: Jess Holmes, travel writer, Flight Centre
Located 600m above the Sacred Valley of Cusco, just 15km from Machu Picchu, hang luxurious glass capsules that offer the adventurous traveller an entirely new way to stay. The exclusive Skylodge Adventure Suites boast four beds, a dining area and private bathroom, and are accessed by a 400m climb or challenging hike. The aluminium and polycarbonate pods provide a 300-degree view of the majestic Sacred Valley below and the twinkling stars above. The next morning, guests simply zip-line down to the valley floor.