The travel year that sort of wasn’t – my favourite experiences of 2021

Cape to Cape Track, Walk Into Luxury, Margaret River

Hiking on the Cape to Cape Track with Walk Into Luxury. Image by Helen Hayes

While 2021 was rather different to what a normal travel year looks like for a lot of us, we have all managed to discover new places to go and new experiences to try. Here are some of the best things we did during 2021.

Glamping and goats are gold 

Currajong Retreat on the Sapphire Coast of NSW

This place is an absolute gem. Located about 40 minutes drive inland from Merimbula Airport, Currajong Retreat is a glamping retreat on a wonderfully lush property with about 300 Angora goats. I was there in kidding season, and as guests can help out with the goats, I was able to bottle feed some babies whose mums were a bit short on supply. These goats are like family to the owners, Grant and Jenny Forsdick, and you can tell they are happy and well looked after because happy goats produce a better quality mohair. I saw this myself when I was able to watch the goats being shorn, and Grant showed me the delicate dreadlock-like curls in the mohair.

As for the glamping tents – they are magnificent. There is a modern bathroom at one end and a big deck at the other complete with a bathtub, two day beds and stunning views over the Towamba river below. In between sits the canvas section, which has a kitchenette, a lounge area complete with a wood-burning fireplace, and a super comfy queen size bed.

This place is so relaxing. The food is incredible and delivered to your door. You can walk through the paddocks, chat to the goats, swim in the river or spot the numerous bird species that flit from tree to tree. You can also organise a romantic picnic, following a map to find your elaborate picnic set up.

I absolutely love this place and I am pretty sure you will too.

A culinary adventure

Bendigo, VIC

Bendigo, Bendigo region, Balgownie Estate

The glamping tents look out over the vines at Balgownie Estate. Image by Helen Hayes

Earlier this year I explored the Bendigo Region. I had never been to Bendigo and I was really impressed – it certainly has a lot going for it, especially in the food and wine space. In fact, it was recognised by the UNESCO Creative Cities Network as a City of Gastronomy. This title recognises Bendigo’s diverse food culture and the community’s commitment to local, sustainable, delicious and creative produce.

I tasted some stunning wines in Bendigo and also in the Heathcote wine region not far out of Bendigo. Some of my favourites were Peregrine Ridge in the Heathcote area – it wows both with its striking glass-walled building on a ridge overlooking a gorgeous valley, and its red wines. Vinea Marson is family-owned and has quite the pedigree. Winemaker Mario Marson’s family has been making wines for five generations, in Italy and now in Australia. The winery has a lovely relaxed vibe. Then there is Balgownie Estate, 10 minutes out of the CBD. It is as pretty as a picture with a cellar door and accommodation – including a range of glamping tents. Waking up in the tent, unzipping the flap and seeing the sunrise behind rows of vines was special.

I enjoyed some fantastic meals while in town. Masons of Bendigo and The Woodhouse were absolutely top-shelf. Another highlight was devouring Australia’s best vanilla slice. Bridgewater Bakehouse had won the title two years in a row and has brought visitors back to the beautiful little river town in droves.

While not food-related, Bendigo Art Gallery was another highlight. For a regional centre, this place is phenomenal. When I was there in April it was showing the Mary Quant exhibition – the only place in Australia to do so. They will be kicking more goals in 2022 with the Elvis: Direct from Graceland exhibition. It will be on from 19 March, 22 to 17 July, 22. The exhibition will feature a wide range of costumes and outfits, vintage memorabilia, and treasured items from Elvis’ beloved Graceland home.  You will see items like Elvis and Priscilla’s wedding outfits, the special costume he wore to meet President Nixon, a diamond-encrusted Maltese cross necklace designed by Linda Thompson, his gold telephone and a dazzling array of Vegas jumpsuits.


A hike in luxury with food and wine? Yes please!

Cape to Cape Track hike with Walk Into Luxury, Margaret River, WA

Cape to Cape Track, Walk into Luxury, Western Australia. Helen Hayes

The coastal scenery along the Cape to Cape Track is sublime. Image by Helen Hayes

2021 was the year I did my first hike. It was a four-day guided walk in Margaret River with Walk Into Luxury. We did four of the most scenic sections of the Cape to Cape Track – a total of around 45 kms. The track covers 125kms between Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse to Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse and is in the Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park.  Walk into Luxury’s guided walk included accommodation at magnificent Injidup Spa Retreat overlooking the coast. It had everything you could want after a day out walking, including a heated plunge pool, eco fireplace, all the mod cons and the wonderful Bodhi Spa. A massage was a must for my tired legs.

I loved everything about it – the walk was incredible, the scenery gobsmacking, the guide was so informative about the vegetation, the birds, the history and the culture of the Wadandi Boodja – the saltwater people who are the traditional owners of the land.

The walk also included some wonderful wine and food experiences, including a wine tasting and lunch at Vasse Felix. Luckily that was our reward at the end of the fourth day – so we could eat and drink without having to worry about hiking the next day. But to be honest, it was so enjoyable I wished we could keep going.

Ice is nice

Antarctica Flight with Chimu Adventures

Antarctica flight, Chimu Adventures, Qantas, Mt Erebus

Mt Erebus with Mt Terror behind, taken from the Chimu Adventures Antarctica flight with Qantas. Image by Helen Hayes

My last trip for the year was a day trip – but definitely the furthest I have ever travelled in one day. I flew all the way to Antarctica on a Great Southern Flight with Chimu Adventures.

We flew out of Sydney at 8.15 AM on a Qantas Dreamliner along with a couple of fantastic Antarctic specialists and landed back in Sydney at 1015 PM.

After about three and half hours we started seeing scattered ice, and then pancake ice, and then sheet ice, a stark white again the deep blue of the ocean. Then we spent about four hours flying around this incredible continent … the highest, driest, coldest and windiest place on Earth.

The Qantas pilots have a number of different routes they can choose. Our pilot had been in touch with the McMurdo base and knew that the skies were clear and that there was no cloud in that area, so that is where we went.

Our plane flew around Ross Island, which is made up of four volcanoes including Mt Erebus, the world’s most southerly active volcano. Erebus is 3,794 metres high (12,448 ft) and a plume of smoke wisps out of its cone top. We flew over the Dry Valleys, over many glaciers, saw little hypersaline lakes, mountain ranges, rocky pyramids and a plethora of weird and wonderful textures patterns of rock and ice. We also flew over the largest base in Antarctica, McMurdo, and Scotts Base, in the same precinct.

To make it fair for everyone, most ticket options ensure a window seat for half the flight. Everyone was in a festive mood, and very happy to let others look out their window. As for the experts, it was fascinating hearing about the history of the explorers who braved the elements and the great unknown to find and reach the South Pole, setting the scene for the many scientists and environmentalists researching this precious part of the world.

Chimu Adventures has scheduled these flights again in 2022 – check them out on the Chimu Adventures website.

A showbiz escape

Hamilton and Come From Away musicals – Sydney, NSW

Some of my favourite experiences were not so much travel but experiences – like seeing some wonderful shows.

Hamilton – The Musical

Hamilton is moving to Melbourne. Image courtesy Daniel Boud, and Destination NSW

Hamilton lived up to all expectations at the Lyric Theatre at the Star. The love-child of Lin-Manuel Miranda and based on the book about Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow, Hamilton tells his story. Alexander Hamilton went from a penniless, illegitimate boy on the hurricane-hit island of Nevis, to a founding father of America. You would have seen his face on the US$10 bill.

I have seen it twice and it totally lives up to all the hype. If you were hesitating because you don’t like Hip Hop music, don’t. The music is absolutely incredible with a blend of hip-hop, jazz, R&B and Broadway. The soaring harmonies and lyrics will become locked in your brain.

It is on in Sydney until the end of February, 2022, and you can still get tickets through Ticketmaster. Then it moves to Melbourne at Her Majestys – starting on 15 March, 2022.

Come From Away

Come From Away, musical, Gander, Newfoundland

Come From Away delights on every level.

Come From Away is another wonderful show that is well worth seeing. It is on at the Capitol Theatre in Sydney before moving to Canberra. It  is a true story about planes that had to land at Gander Airport, Newfoundland, Canada, when the US closed its airspace after the shocking events on September 11, 2001. A total of 38 planes carrying 6,579 passengers and crew landed in Gander, and were looked after by the people of Gander and surrounding towns.

Come From Away is the story of how so many beautiful friendships were formed in this time, between different cultures. It will warm your heart and give you hope.

Come From Away is on until the end of January and then moves to Canberra in February.