Immerse yourself in the natural splendour of these stunning destinations.
Dive deep in Antarctica
The frozen continent has held humankind in thrall from the earliest days of polar exploration. As the modern world marches on, the wilds of Antarctica remain a bucket-list experience that is best had on water. From the mesmerising iridescent monuments of blue-tinged ice to the teeming wildlife of this protected wilderness, Antarctica remains the world’s last frontier, with its waters accessible by ship for only five months of the year (November through March). It’s a place that will spark even the most well-travelled imagination.
These days, Antarctica can be explored as few people have seen it: under water at a depth of 300 metres, in a custom-built submarine. Once the exclusive domain of scientists, the region’s big blue can now be experienced by adventure-seekers, thanks to Scenic’s high-tech ocean-going pod, housed on board its luxury vessel Scenic Eclipse. Seating just six guests, Scenic Neptune is a front-row ticket to the mysteries of the icy deep, where you can thrill to the sight of curious leopard seals and penguins and wonder at the ethereal beauty of anemones, urchins and sea stars.
The experience will reach another level later this year, when Crystal Cruises launches Crystal Endeavor. The most spacious purpose-built polar-class expedition yacht in the world, it will come complete with 18 electric Zodiacs, a seven-seater submarine and a remotely operated vehicle, believed to be the most technically advanced underwater scooter of its kind. However, in true adventuring spirit, it’s the journey that makes a trip to this captivating place so unforgettable. Cruising the Southern Ocean – home to a diverse range of marine mammals – is as integral to the Antarctic experience as its moving galleries of ice sculptures, epic glaciers and chattering colonies of penguins and seabirds that inhabit this pristine environment. The two-day crossing of the notoriously rough Drake Passage remains a boast-worthy achievement, while the moody hues of the Antarctic Peninsula are a lesson in abstract Impressionism.
This adventure-filled journey is undertaken in modern style with Silversea Cruises. Its Silver Cloud, recently refurbished as a luxury polar expedition vessel, comes equipped with a brand-new fleet of Zodiacs and kayaks for exploring polar waters, along with personal butlers adept at mixing the perfect pre-dinner Martini in your suite.
Getting there: Most Antarctic cruises depart from Ushuaia, Argentina, and Punta Arenas, Chile. Qantas flies direct from Sydney to Santiago, Chile return starting from 83,000 Qantas Points + A$350.^ From there, a short domestic flight will take you to your launching point.
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Walk on sacred ground in Rajasthan, India
In India, the land of ancient tales and mystical visions come to life, there is something extra-special about the state of Rajasthan. Sprawling across the country’s north-west and encompassing much of the beautiful Thar Desert, it’s a place of princely palaces and lavish forts where kings and maharajahs have chased immortality.
This combination of unique architecture and desert landscapes, along with vibrant cities such as Jodhpur and Udaipur, has made Rajasthan one of 2020’s trending travel destinations. Seeing the dusky-hued walls of a medieval fortress looming above fields and rugged hills in the light of a golden-setting sun is sublime; to spend the night in such a place, like the Alila Fort Bishangarh, is one for the bucket list.
Here, and at other historic properties reimagined as luxurious accommodation, you’ll be transported to the heady days of the maharajah. Rising like an all-white vision from the waters of Lake Pichola, the Taj Lake Palace offers respite from the cacophony of Udaipur on its serene rooftop terrace. Meanwhile, the boutique, more wallet-friendly Rawla Narlai – a beautifully restored 17th-century royal retreat in the scenic Aravalli hills – proves that even princes sometimes know how to save their pennies. Rajasthan isn’t just opulent palaces and acres of polished marble. Life on its streets is equally rich; a colourful dreamscape of sights and sounds. Women in jewel-coloured saris. The bellow of spice vendors and chai wallahs. Camels and elephants wandering improbably along city streets.
A rickshaw ride through the narrow passages of the old city of Jodhpur is guaranteed to excite the senses. A visit to Mehrangarh Fort, a landmark that has loomed over the city since 1459 and was aptly described by writer Rudyard Kipling as “the work of giants”, is a lesson in the country’s majesty and might.
Explore the region from a fresh perspective. Celebrate the golden age of train travel aboard the Palace on Wheels, with its lavishly appointed sleeper carriages and dining cars. Glamp in the Thar Desert under a spectacular canopy of stars. Join a camel trek or a wildlife safari in search of leopards, tigers and four-horned antelope.
Getting there: Fly to Delhi from Sydney or Melbourne on Qantas and partner airlines starting from 102,000 Qantas Points + A$289. From there, it’s about an hour’s flight to Jaipur in Rajasthan.
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Soar high in Alberta, Canada
They don’t call it a “journey through the clouds” for nothing. Canada’s iconic Rocky Mountaineer is train travel taken to new heights. The two-day rail trip winds through the heart-poundingly beautiful landscape of the Rockies, passing by places so rugged and remote that they remain inaccessible to cars. A feat of 19th-century engineering, it crosses the Continental Divide, one of the highest points in North America, and comes tantalisingly close to the Rockies’ highest peak, the cloud-grazing Mount Robson. It’s a spectacular introduction to the wild-west province of Alberta. This is the Canada of popular imagination: dramatic snow-covered peaks, dense fir forest, turquoise glacial lakes and character-filled mountain towns such as Banff and Jasper.
The wildlife for which Canada is famous thrives in these parts. There’s a good chance of seeing moose and bears, along with wolves and hardy mountain goats. But take your cue from the bald eagle, a common yet arresting sight soaring overhead, and seize your chance for a bird’s-eye view of the landscape from the Banff Gondola. Rising 700 metres to the top of Sulphur Mountain, the enclosed cable car offers a panoramic look at the Bow Valley, Cascade Mountain and the glacier-fed Lake Minnewanka. It reaches its crescendo at a 360-degree rooftop observation deck and ridge-top boardwalk, which overlooks the pretty town of Banff far below.
Fancy getting even higher? Board a helicopter for an aerial sightseeing tour of the mountains with local experts Rockies Heli Canada. This is your opportunity to fly over the deep freeze of the Columbia Icefield, the largest in the Rocky Mountains; take in incredible views of waterfalls and lakes; and buzz over Cline Pass at almost 3000 metres. Another iconic image of Canada, Lake Louise is considered the highlight of World Heritage-listed Banff National Park – thanks to the mirror-like effect of its striking emerald-coloured water, which reflects the snowy peaks of the surrounding mountains as well as Victoria Glacier.
Often referred to as the “lake in the clouds”, see it from its best vantage point, Little Beehive – a peak with broad views of the stunning glacier-fed pool. It’s a moderate 3.5-kilometre return hike from the grand Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise hotel, taking in the Lake Agnes Trail and the family-run Lake Agnes Tea House, which sits at an altitude of 2135 metres.
Getting there: Fly to Vancouver or Toronto – the gateways to Alberta – return on Qantas and partner airlines starting from 102,400 Qantas Points + A$290.
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