Top Fives

Top five places I’ve been to for each category. No particular order, and I’ll add/remove as I see more of the world.

Historical sites

  • Herculaneum (Italy) There’s a running joke that you can tell if someone has really been to Pompeii in that they’ll tell you Herculaneum is better. And it really is. In addition to being less crowded, the site is much better preserved and you get more of a feel for Roman life than anywhere else. Whereas Pompeii feels like an archaeological site, Herculaneum feels more like a living town.
  • Çanakkale (Turkey) Gateway to Gallipoli, NZ’s most important overseas battlefield, and the closest city to Troy.
  • The Acropolis (Athens, Greece) Seeing the Parthenon for the first time, out the corner of my eye, really struck me. Getting to the top brought back a lot of memories of high school Classical Studies classes.
  • Jerusalem (Israel) It’s impossible to escape history in this place.  A truly special city for all people who hold a connection to it, be they Jewish, Muslim, Christian, or anyone else who holds this place dear.
  • Yogyakarta (Indonesia) The nearby temple complexes at Borobudur and Prambanan are both stunning, and can be done in a single day – I did a Borobudur sunrise tour. As a base city, Yogykarata was brilliant – it felt more genuine to me than any other destination I’ve ever visited. Nobody was putting on airs to attract tourist dollars – in fact there were very few Western tourists at all. After being warned about Bali, it was nice to see how genuine and welcoming the people of Jogja were.

Current 5 favourite sporting sites

  • WIN Stadium (Wollongong, Australia). Great location, great sightlines, and they have a craft beer bar attached for pre-game beverages!
  • Türk Telekom Arena (Istanbul, Turkey). I saw Galatasary v. FC Copenhagen in a Champions League match here, standing with the Galatasary ultras. Insane experience
  • Karaiskakis Stadium (Piraeus, Greece) Saw AEK Athens v. OFI Crete here. Terrific medium-sized venue which held a brilliant atmosphere.
  • Yarrow Stadium (New Plymouth, New Zealand) Basically your standard provincial rugby stadium in New Zealand – but when the weather co-operates, the view of Mount Taranaki cannot be beat.
  • Westpac Stadium (Wellington, New Zealand). This is a purely sentimental choice – I’d rather we demolish it and build a roofed rectangular stadium, but years of supporting Wellington Phoenix and the Hurricanes here, throw in some terrific Black Caps matches, and of course NZ’s qualifier for the 2010 FIFA World Cup?

Current top 5 nature walks

  • Blue Mountains (near Sydney, Australia) Most people who visit go to Katoomba. I went to Wentworth Falls instead. I’ll need to see Katoomba to truly compare, but the section I saw was just astonishing.
  • Ilhara Valley (Cappadocia, Turkey) As interesting as the famous underground cities were, this place was just stunningly beautiful. The rock-cut churches, some of the oldest in Christianity, were an added bonus.
  • Yinghedong Waterfall (near Maokong, Taipei, Taiwan) To get here, you take a gondola to Maokong through misty terraces covered in tea plantations. Not natural per se but still gorgeous. However, if you go past the tea houses and walk through a few farms you can reach a wooded area which almost feels like you have it to yourself. Walking behind the waterfall you can reach a small Buddhist shrine built into a cave.
  • Uluru and Kata Tjuta (Northern Territory, Australia)vWhenever people ask me what to see in Australia, I only need four words: “Blue Mountains, Red Centre.” The Australian outback is what makes me homesick for the land of my childhood the most. Uluru and Kata Tjuta are both impressive – but please, no climbing.
  • Fox Glacier (New Zealand) When a friend and I decided to see either Fox or Franz Josef, our choice was largely based on walkability. Walking through native bush to arrive at a glacier appealed a lot more than sitting in a cramped minivan! Nearby Lake Matheson sealed the deal.

Current 5 favourite lookouts

  • Masada (Israel) Seeing the sunrise at Masada was the entire reason why I went on my Dead Sea tour. Whilst Ein Gedi was a pleasant surprise, and the Dead Sea was musing, Masada was something special.
  • Blue Mountains (Sydney, Australia) I’m not low on material – the Blue Mountains are just that good.
  • Castel San Pietro (Verona, Italy) I stumbled across this place by accident. Verona is a very photogenic city, and this is one of the best places to see it from.
  • Cable Car lookout (Wellington, New Zealand) Honorary mention – Mount Victoria lookout.
  • Mauao summit (Tauranga, New Zealand) I try to summit Mauao (Mount Maunganui) every time I visit Tauranga. Kind of a personal tradition.

Current top 5 sites in New Zealand

  • Wellington. Of all the places I’ve lived, this is the only place I’ve truly considered home. Stunning harbour, delicious coffee and craft beer, plenty of green areas (Zealandia and Otari-Wilton’s Bush in particular), and easy to get around.  And when I need an escape, the Wairarapa is a relaxing train ride away for country cycling and Martinborough rines.
  • North Island’s Central Plateau. I’ve been on enough buses on the main  trunk to get sick of the scenery… until the green grass turns to brown tussock, with Ruapehu towering above it all covered in snow.
  • Milford Sound (Piopiotahi) One of NZ’s most iconic sites, but the photos simply cannot do it justice. And if your bus stops at Monkey Creek on the way, you get to meet keas – my favourite bird.
  • Queen Charlotte Sound. The best part of taking the inter-island ferry between Picton and Wellington. Gorgeous scenary. Outward Bound also gives you the chance to sail through the sound, as well as run a half-marathon along the Queen Charlotte Track.
  • Bay of Islands. Seeing the Waitangi Treaty Grounds was the last item on my NZ bucket list, and remains one of the highlights. Paihia was very touristy, but a short ferry ride away is Russel (Kororareka), home of Flagstaff Hill and one of my favourite small towns.